A review of Avatar VR gloves by Neurodigital
November 15, 2017
My company (Packet39) develops VR and AR safety and training applications for the manufacturing and power industry. We could use hand tracking in many of our projects, and while the LeapMotion works well when your hands are “in the air”, it fails miserably when you are holding or touching objects. We decided to buy and test every VR glove on the market. Here is a review of Avatar VR by NeuroDigital.es. A set of two gloves set us back 2000 Euro before shipping and taxes. Not a small amount.
Included in the box were two gloves, two wrist sensors, two arm sensors and one chest band sensor. Also included are two long mini-USB cables. Interestingly, component #9 in the diagram below (AVRLink) was not included. I don’t know what it does or if it’s required.
The gloves have IMUs that can do positional tracking, but it’s relative and not absolute. That means it needs a point of reference, and that point of reference is the chest sensor. The system will not work without it.
Each glove has two RGB lights to indicate status and they often blink a confusing set of colors and patterns. Most are not documented anywhere, so I’m not sure what they mean. They also have a micro-usb port for wired connection and a bluetooth module for wireless.
As you can see in the picture above, the glove connects to the rest of the sensors with a flat plastic connector, which doesn’t lock and is easily detached. I think this is to make the process of putting on the gloves easier. However, when you actually have the gloves on your hands, connecting that plug is almost impossible. More on that in a bit.
According to the documentation, the gloves will sometimes require calibration upon power-up. This consists of putting all the sensors on a flat surface, and letting it blink the LEDs for about 30 seconds. The docs are not clear if this needs to be done every time, or only the when the lights are blinking. So far, the lights have blinked every time I turned on the gloves, so I calibrated it every time. Again, I really don’t know if this is required or not.
At first my computer didn’t see the gloves’ Bluetooth, but after I replaces my Bluetooth dongle with a newer one it worked without a problem. The gloves connect to the Neurodigital software, which is called ND Suite . Currently only Windows is supported. ND Suite offers some basic feedback on the glove’s sensors, and allows you to test the actuators. There are 10 actuators in each glove, they are basically little vibrating buzzers.
As you can see in the video above, the glove detects gestures with four conductive pads, three on the fingers and one on the palm. I found that sometimes the contact is not registered if you don’t press hard enough. The pads can slide and move around, and that can also cause a failure to register.
These gloves are clunky. There is just no way to sugar coat it, getting into the gloves is a huge hassle. You need to put on all the straps first, while the gloves dangle from the end of the wires, and take great care that the connector won’t detach. The bands are elastic but not Velcro, they use an annoying double ring setup. I guess it makes it easier to tighten, but it also leaves a lot of dangling loose ends.
It’s crucial that the sensors don’t move around, so the bands need to be tight. They itch. They limit blood circulation. It’s not fun. The chest band is particularly annoying, it kept sliding down no matter how much I tightened it. The chest sensor is not attached to the band and will slide sideways. I don’t know if this is a design flaw, if it’s deliberate or if it’s just of no consequences.
The gloves themselves are bulky and have a lot of stuff inside then. Due to the actuators on the fingertips, doing anything while wearing the glove is almost impossible. I tried typing on my keyboard and couldn’t. It also gets hot.
Testing the gloves in VR
There are only two VR demos that are available to download (as of the writing of this review). ZeroGravity and Carnival.
Piano and Bubbles both lead to page that says “coming soon”
Both require you to stand in a certain pose before you can start, to calibrate the relative position of the gloves. Here is the carnival demo:
I spent a few hours tying to get the best performance out of the system. I did calibration every time I powered up the gloves, I read the documentation twice, I moved around the sensor bands. I redid the pose calibration. I rebooted. Nothing made much of a difference.
There are two very big problems here:
- The positional tracking is off. Way off. It’s doesn’t match the real hand position at all. The virtual hands will rotate, shift and fly off in random directions. When walking around the VR play space, the hands don’t really follow you. They move somewhere, just not where you are going. In the video above, it was extremely difficult to get the VR hands into camera view, as they were floating somewhere behind me.
- The datastream from the gloves seems to sputter and hang all the time. You can see it in the ND Suite (the screen with all the little XYZ arrows). You can clearly see it in the video above. This is a wireless/Bluetooth problem (it doesn’t happen when using the USB connection). I don’t have any other Bluetooth devices connected to my computer.
As it stands right now, I can’t recommend this product to anyone, for the following reasons:
- Positional tracking is completely broken. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but for life of me I can’t figure out what, and I’m a very technical person, a VR developer and I’ve been in this space for two years.
- Sputter and lag when wireless (can’t help but notice that in all their videos use the wired connection for the gloves)
- Lack of documentation and troubleshooting guides. I’ve read every word in the documentation twice and I still don’t know what the LED colors mean.
- Clunky, poor design of straps and connectors.
I’ve contacted Neurodigital about all these problems and waited a week before posting this review. I did not hear back from them. If they do contact me, I will update here.