The baby deer hooves prance on my palm. The raindrops tap my skin in staccato. The spider legs graze, freakishly, across my fingers.
I’m in virtual reality, but with an added twist on my hands: high-tech haptic gloves that mimic human touch. They are the latest iteration of gloves developed by HaptX, a Seattle startup that will show off its new hardware on stage at the GeekWire Summit on Wednesday.
The gloves use microfluidic technology and motion tracking to let users to move through virtual environments and feel virtual objects with their hands. HaptX, previously known as AxonVR, unveiled the first version almost one year ago. The gloves work with a VR headset and tracker, connected to a central control box.
The company made improvements to the gloves, reducing the size and weight slightly, and adding more precise haptic technology via 130 “tactile actuators” that provide the feeling of realistic touch on skin. It also unveiled an enterprise-focused HaptX software development kit with support for Unity and Unreal Engine 4, allowing users to create new VR experiences with the gloves.
HaptX is working with early customers that are testing the gloves for product design and workforce training. It is targeting industries including automotive, aerospace, government, and others.
The company showed me a new demo from inside a vehicle, showing how someone could use the technology to experience and feel a car’s design from the driver’s perspective — flipping switches, turning signals, opening the glove box, etc.
HaptX CEO and co-founder Jake Rubin said the company eventually plans to sell its gloves to consumers, but for now it is focusing on enterprise clients. It bills the gloves as a cheaper and more efficient way to interact with new design iterations or training employees — an early use of virtual reality, as recently demonstrated by Walmart.
“In enterprise, you’ve got customers that have clearly-defined needs, pain points that are costing them hundreds of millions or billions of dollars, and very low price sensitivity,” he said.
Rubin said there are other companies developing gloves to be used with virtual or augmented reality, but HaptX’s technology sets it apart.
“There’s no one else who is delivering a level of quality required to provide industrial-grade haptics,” he said. “Our microfluidic architecture is completely unique.”
Rubi helped start the company in 2012 as a 22 year-old with co-founder Bob Crockett. HaptX employs 35 people and is backed by investors like China-based NetEase; Dawn Patrol Ventures; The Virtual Reality Company, Keeler Investment Group; ex-Twitter CEO Dick Costolo; Digital Kitchen founder Paul Matthaeus; and Executive Vice President of Walt Disney Imagineering Jon Snoddy.
HaptX is one of many virtual reality startups in the Seattle area. Others include Pluto VR, Pixvana, VRStudios, VREAL, Endeavor One, Nullspace VR, Against Gravity, Visual Vocal, and several others. Those are in addition to larger companies like Microsoft, Valve, HTC, and Oculus that also are developing virtual and augmented reality technologies in the region.