Seattle startup HaptX lands grant to build full-body 'robotic exoskeleton' for virtual reality – GeekWire

Seattle startup HaptX lands grant to build full-body ‘robotic exoskeleton’ for virtual reality – GeekWire

Seattle startup HaptX lands grant to build full-body ‘robotic exoskeleton’ for virtual reality – GeekWire

A fully-functional prototype of a lower-body “exoskeleton” HaptX built and tested. (HaptX Photo)

HaptX just landed funding from the National Science Foundation to create a full-body haptic system.

The 8-year-old Seattle startup received a $1.5 million grant and will work with Virginia Tech and the University of Florida on a 4-year project called ForceBot. The system combines HaptX’s microfluidic touch feedback technology with a “robotic exoskeleton.” The idea is to let people feel and touch in a virtual environment, or manipulate objects from afar with a robotic avatar.

“We have always had a larger vision to create a full-body haptic system, something akin to the Holodeck, an environment simulator that can deliver realistic feedback to your arms and legs as well as your eyes, ears and hands,” said Joe Michaels, chief revenue officer at HaptX. “This capability has been our ultimate goal because involving the entire body allows for total immersion in virtual environments.”

HaptX, previously known as AxonVR, unveiled the first version of its virtual reality gloves in 2017. The gloves work with a VR headset and tracker, connected to a central control box, and let users move through virtual environments and feel virtual objects with their hands. HaptX is leasing its gloves development kit to paying customers such as Volkswagen.

The 20-person company raised a $12 million fundraising round in December and partnered with Idaho-based manufacturer Advanced Input Systems. It continues to work on its first commercial product and recently landed a separate grant to help train U.S. Army medics.

Michaels said production is still on track amid the pandemic. “Without trade shows or business travel, it has been more challenging for companies like HaptX to demonstrate our technology to customers,” he said. “But all things considered we have been able to realize very good commercial results this year.”

HaptX CEO Jake Rubin helped start the company in 2012 as a 22 year-old with co-founder Bob Crockett. HaptX is one of several virtual reality startups in the Seattle area, though some have shut down in recent years as the technology has yet to catch on with mainstream consumers.

Total venture funding to date for HaptX is $19 million.

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