We’ve all heard of virtual reality, in fact many of us have already used it whether in our video games or selfie apps. It seems that virtual reality is the way of the future, but if you’re familiar with virtual reality (or VR) you likely know that there’s a gap between what can be experienced in real life and what can be emulated with VR.
To clarify, what VR refers to is a computer-generated environment that allows users to experience a simulated reality. While this in theory can include all things that allow us to experience the real world (taste, touch, feel etc.), most VR at this time has a limited ability. Today’s startup HaptX is looking to change that.
Visions of Tomorrow
HaptX dreams of a world where the cup you pick up in VR feels as real as the mug you grab off the kitchen table and where the touch of a hand in VR excites your skin and feels like it brushes across the hair on your arms just like in real life. Promises like these sound a little too good to be true, but HaptX is hoping to win skeptics over with their new products.
We believe the best way to interact with the digital world is the way you interact with the real world. Your virtual hand should behave like your real hand. Your body should move like it does in the real world. Virtual objects should feel like real objects. That’s why we design every piece of our technology platform with…an uncompromising dedication to the realism of the touch experience, an ability to scale from hands to the full body.
How exactly do they hope to do this? With Haptics of course! Haptics is the "science and technology of touch" according to their website. It’s the way in which we communicate non-verbally using only touch. So what does this have to do with VR?
HaptX’s microfluidic technology is designed to let users feel the shape, movement, texture, and temperature of objects in the digital word, acting like an advanced level of traditional haptic feedback. Best of all it can be integrated into any garment, which means you can feel virtual objects with special gloves or feel virtual rain running down your body with a full-body-suit. Pretty cool, right?
Their diverse team of mechanical, software, electrical and biomedical engineers worked on putting their products together. Their main products include their microfluidic smart textile, lightweight exoskeleton, motion tracking tech, and software development kit.
Their microfluidic smart textile is a flexible, silicone-based smart fabric that is studded with pneumatic actuators and embedded microfluidic air channels. The pneumatic actuators give the user a sense of touch as it pushes against their skin, emulating the experience of touching an object in the real world. Through this process, a virtually infinite selection of sensations, textures, shapes, sizes and more can be felt just like in real life. A second layer of microchannels can be added for temperature sensitivity as well.
Their gloves are the first example but they are hoping to expand. The microfluidic smart textile lines the exoskeleton of their gloves, applying up to five pounds of resistance to each digit. The resistance allows users to receive feedback from the smart textile which enhances the perception of size, shape and weight. HaptX would like to expand the same exoskeleton technology they use for their gloves to a full body. They also want to expand it to larger areas like arms and legs.
HaptX’s industrial-grade motion tracking ensures that the software knows where and how the user’s body is positioned in space to produce the appropriate haptic sensations. They even created custom hand-tracking technology to meet industry needs since the small size and dexterity of hands makes them difficult to track.
HaptX seems like a dream, not just for users but for developers as well. Imagine being able to design a game where users can feel the weight of the backpack on their shoulders or of a blade of grass between their fingers, well now it’s possible. Using their Software Development Kit (SDK), developers can create tech-enabled software that uses their technology.
The HaptX SDK works seamlessly with leading game engines, including Unreal Engine and Unity, making it easy for developers to create VR experiences that leverage the advanced haptic capabilities of the HaptX platform.
HaptX’s technology is thus very useful for gamers and developers, but it also has other uses. After all, VR has been shown to help with rehabilitation, anxiety and even regaining movement in paralyzed digits. The future of games, recovery, and experiences are and will continue to be related to the quality of our VR, so why settle for less? With HaptX, objects in VR can feel as soft, wet, cold, hard or heavy as in the real world.