Engineers are working on new gloves that let users touch, grasp and manipulate virtual objects, and feel like they are actually touching something in the real world.

European scientists have unveiled their new haptic glove, which weighs under 8 grams per finger, but also provides extremely realistic feedback.

“We wanted to develop a lightweight device that - unlike existing virtual-reality gloves - doesn't require a bulky exoskeleton, pumps or very thick cables,” says Herbert Shea, head of EPFL's Soft Transducers Laboratory (LMTS).

The glove, called DextrES, is made of nylon with thin elastic metal strips running over the fingers.

The strips are separated by a thin insulator. When the user's fingers come into contact with a virtual object, the controller applies a voltage difference between the metal strips causing them to stick together via electrostatic attraction - this produces a braking force that blocks the finger's or thumb's movement.

Once the voltage is removed, the metal strips glide smoothly and the user can once again move his fingers freely.

The next step will be to scale up the device and apply it to other parts of the body using conductive fabric.

“Gamers are currently the biggest market, but there are many other potential applications - especially in healthcare, such as for training surgeons. The technology could also be applied in augmented reality,” says Shea.