Playing a first person shooter or online multiplayer games, like League of Legends, can be an information overload.
Stats on teammates and equipment, a map of enemy locations, and messages from players — not to mention the actual gameplay — fill the screen. Gamers also often wear headphones to communicate with each other and hear detailed audio cues from the game. And, amid all that info, it can be hard to stay oriented and react quickly.
But there is another way to communicate essential information when our eyes and ears are busy: through our sense of touch.
OmniWear Haptics — a project being incubated at the Invention Science Fund, Intellectual Ventures’ invention lab in Bellevue, Wash. — is harnessing touch as a communication medium, beginning with the Kickstarter launch today of the OmniWear Arc, its first commercial product.
The Arc is a slim loop, which sits around a player’s neck.
It connects via Bluetooth to OmniWear’s mobile app, which in turn reads data from a player’s screen and alerts the player to elements of the game through eight vibrational motors positioned around the device.
Say, for example, a player’s character is standing at the end of a hallway, scouting their surroundings. If an enemy approaches the player from behind, on the right side, the Arc will vibrate on the back right of the player’s neck. A little ticklish, to be sure, but surprisingly effective at helping orient gameplay.
Check out the Arc’s Kickstarter video to see the tech in action.
The Arc will run players $150, with discounts for early backers, and will start shipping in September of 2017.
Although the Arc is only compatible with Counter-Strike and League of Legends for the moment, Ehren Brav, OmniWear founder and CEO, says the startup plans to add other game support and integrate directly with new games in the near future. Developers can also integrate the Arc with their games in progress.
Brav said integration with VR games is a large priority for the team, as well as supporting more first-person shooters, simulation games, and online multiplayer games like Dota 2.
“When you’re playing one of these games, your attention is fully, 100 percent focused on what you’re doing, and it’s difficult to digest all the information that’s being thrown at you,” Brav said. The goal of the Arc, he said, is to help players prioritize information and react quickly.
Brav describes himself as your “typically a-typical” entrepreneur. He started his career as a lawyer in New York representing Google, moved to Seattle to program his own legal app, and is now a manager at the Invention Science Fund.
And although he is a longtime gaming geek, Brav didn’t plan to found a gaming startup. He stumbled into the idea a few years ago, working on a different project at ISF.
“We were asked to research ways of preventing concussions in football,” Brav said, and his team began looking at touch-based communication in player’s helmets. To test the idea, they created a prototype using a first person shooter game, and Brav realized that the tech could be hugely impactful in the gaming industry.
“Your sense of touch is actually a really good channel for communicating information to you, especially at times when your eyes and ears are fully burdened,” like playing an immersive game, Brav said.
Brav began working on the a prototype of the device on nights and weekends. He became more and more excited about the possible applications for the tech, and founded OmniWear to bring his ideas to fruition.
The OmniWear team demoed their first public prototype, a cap that integrated with an Occulus, at this year’s PAX conference, and Brav said the reception was extremely enthusiastic.
OmniWear decided to launch on Kickstarter to get the tech into the hands of gamers as soon as possible, and start building a customer base in the community.
Although Brav is excited about bringing more gaming devices to market, he said the tech could also be used for a variety of other applications, including giving drivers directions and alerting bikers to possible collisions before they are hit.
“Because no one has done anything like this before, there are a number of different directions you could take it,” Brav said. He added that the startup has been in talks with the military about potential applications for them, and plans to branch into more areas after establishing a solid gaming presence.
OmniWear is still being incubated at the ISF, and has received funding and support from Intellectual Ventures, but will be spun out as soon as quickly as possible so they can work more agilely, Brav said.
There are four core members of the team, including Brav, who work with a number of contractors. Most employees are based in the Seattle area.