‘Huge milestone’ for HaptX as startup releases its gloves for true-contact VR and robotics experiences

The HaptX Gloves DK2. (HaptX Photo)

After years of research, development, prototyping and pilot projects, HaptX can finally touch its first commercial product. The startup said Tuesday that its HaptX Gloves DK2 are now available for purchase, bringing true-contact haptics to enterprise customers working in virtual reality and robotics.

The technology promises to deliver realistic touch feedback to users reaching out for objects in VR thanks to microfluidics in the glove system that physically and precisely displace the skin on a user’s hands and fingers.

HaptX founder and CEO Jake Rubin said the gloves might be the closest thing to “attaining real-life superpowers,” and that the possibilities are “virtually endless.”

“It marks a leap forward in what’s possible with VR, XR, and robotics technologies,” Rubin said in a news release. “Fortune 500 companies and governments around the world use HaptX Gloves to train their workforces. Automakers design and test new vehicles with them. Companies use them to control robots intuitively from a distance.”

Previously known as AxonVR, HaptX first revealed the gloves during prototyping in 2017. Tuesday’s release of an actual product that customers can own is a “huge milestone” for the company, according to chief revenue officer Joe Michaels, who told Mekhato that customers are responding exactly as HaptX hoped.

“We’ve already pre-sold 75% of our first manufacturing batch and we are now planning our next production run,” he said.

HaptX says other haptic gloves are limited to vibration and force feedback. But the DK2 gloves, which work with a VR headset and tracker connected to a central control box, use more than 130 points of tactile feedback on each hand to deliver realism specifically suited for professionals in training and simulation, industrial design, and robotics.

The 8-year-old company partnered with Advanced Input Systems to scale up production of HaptX Gloves, and to sell and service the product worldwide. HaptX is not revealing pricing, and Michaels said the HaptX Gloves DK2 is “priced very appropriately for mission-critical enterprise applications.”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is among those who previously got his hands on — and in — the gloves during a demo at Amazon’s re:Mars conference in June 2019.

“That is really impressive,” Bezos said at the time, calling the tactile feedback “really tremendous” and “really cool.”

The COVID-19 pandemic put up the same hurdles many businesses have faced, including travel restrictions which prevented HaptX from getting customers’ hands in the product. Suppliers also experienced some pandemic-related delays.

“In other ways the pandemic really contributed to demand for the DK2,” Michaels said. “Enterprise customers accelerated their shift to virtual training, virtual design, and robots with telepresence — all of which benefit enormously from our realistic touch feedback.”

HaptX has raised more than $19 million in funding and employs about 20 people across offices in Seattle, San Francisco and San Luis Obispo, Calif. Michaels said the entire HaptX business team, most of the board, investors and key professional service providers are all in Seattle, but San Luis Obispo, home to the company’s engineers, is now considered the headquarters.

“Last year we were finding it inconvenient for mail and packages meant for them to automatically come up here, so we technically switched the headquarters,” Michaels said. “This in no way reflects any kind of move away from Seattle for HaptX. We’re fully committed to the city.”

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