Haptics company is building an exoskeleton to feel digital objects in VR
Virtual reality allow us to try real-life situations through special headsets strapped on our faces. For anyone who tries, it is a magical experience. But a Seattle based startup Axon VR, is trying to take this experience even further.
The company is building a full-body suit that allows users not just to see virtual images, but actually let them touch and feel digital objects like in the real life.
Axon VR names this technology as HaptX.
Earlier in December, Axon VR announced to secure $5.8 million seed investment round, led by China-based NetEase and Dawn Patrol Ventures. The investment was recorded as the largest ever for a haptics company in VR. Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo was also amongst the investors involved.
In a special interview with Haptical, Jake Rubin, the co-founder and CEO of Axon VR, explained how they started the company and talked about the potential use case scenarios for this futuristic technology.
Why did you decide to found AxonVR? What is the idea behind it?
I’ve been fascinated by the idea of fully-immersive virtual reality for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I was captivated by depictions of fully-immersive VR in fiction — the Holodeck from Star Trek, Neal Stephenson’s Metaverse, The Matrix. When I started to dig into the real science and technology behind fully-immersive virtual reality, I realized pretty quickly that touch is the biggest missing piece.
Even before the modern resurgence of VR that began with the Oculus Kickstarter in 2012, it was clear to me that the technology existed for audiovisual immersion in VR. On the other hand, no one had yet figured out how to recreate realistic touch sensations.
Jake Rubin, Co-founder and CEO of Axon VR
I spent years reading everything I could find in the field of haptics and dreaming up the technologies that would become the HaptX platform. In late 2012, I came to the point where I had made as much progress as I could on my own, and went searching for a partner with the engineering chops and the resources to help me make my idea a reality.
In my search, I stumbled across the website for Dr. Bob Crockett’s company Proof of Concept, and I was immediately drawn to his innovative R&D model and his expertise in advanced materials and manufacturing processes.
One day, I cold called him and convinced him to meet with me. A few months later, he co-founded AxonVR with me, and threw the full resources of his lab into developing the HaptX platform. Bob has told his side of the story about how he went from cold call to co-founder in a blog post.
Are you planning to introduce AxonVR solutions to consumers?
We’re focused initially on enterprise use cases. Today, we are laser focused on using our HaptX technology to create the world’s most realistic haptic experiences for our enterprise customers. That’s what our recent funding round, the largest ever for a haptics company in VR, will help us work towards. In the future, we expect to scale HaptX technology to the point where we can offer it directly to consumers.
We receive incredible response when we share HaptX with VR professionals and enthusiasts.
What are the potential use case scenarios for HaptX?
We are targeting three primary use cases:
Location-based entertainment: AxonVR will add a new dimension to entertainment experiences at theme parks, arcades, multiplexes, and other location-based entertainment venues. With HaptX, players can jump into their favorite movies or games and join the action. Imagine being able to run, jump, fly, and cartwheel through limitless virtual worlds. Players can reach out and touch their favorite characters, and interact with their favorite fantasy universe with lifelike realism. Full-body, interactive immersion is the future of gaming and entertainment.
Training and simulation: AxonVR offers a platform for realistic training and simulation for defense, industrial, and medical applications. HaptX technology enables a new level of authenticity, safety, and cost effectiveness for combat, surgical and workforce training.
Design and manufacturing: Virtual reality provides CAD/CAM users with a compelling new medium for 3D content creation. Today, designers and engineers can’t physically interact with a product until after they build a prototype. With HaptX, designers can feel the 3D models they create throughout the product design process. HaptX enables professionals to swiftly prototype concepts, experiencing each with unprecedented realism. AxonVR’s HaptX technology will transform the design and manufacturing process by combining the precision of CAD software with the hands-on intimacy of sculpting clay.
What is your vision with VR technology? How far can this go?
We envision a world in which virtual experiences are indistinguishable from real life.
Someday soon, anyone will be able to go to a VR center, slip on a suit, snap into a station containing an exoskeleton and motion simulator, and visit one of thousands of virtual worlds that feel as real as the world around you right now.
Almost any experience imaginable will be universally accessible — fly like a superhero, explore fantastical fantasy worlds with your friends, learn Kung Fu. Memories you create in HaptX devices will be as real and as meaningful as any other experience you have in your life. Perhaps more-so.