Anyone who has used the latest VR HMDs will tell you that in terms of audio-visual quality the VR industry has basically nailed it. Obviously we’ll be seeing greater fidelity as time goes by, but the minimum threshold for quality VR is well and truly behind us when it comes to your eyes and ears.
The next big hurdle is reaching that same milestone with our sense of touch, the so-called field of haptics. There have been many fairly advanced systems over the years, but none of them have been truly practical outside of an institutional setting. Cumbersome and expensive, only organisations such as the US military were really in a position to justify advanced haptics.
That’s where AxonVR is hoping to make its biggest impact and after nearly five years since the company was founded, it’s almost ready to ship its first product.
The company’s main claim to fame is a material they have dubbed “HaptX”. This is a thin and flexible material that uses microfluidics to simulate touch, texture and even temperature.
If that sounds like a big leap over the haptic gloves we currently have, you’d be right. Axon is a small company of only 30 employees, but they are making some bold claims about the capabilities of their future products.
That’s usually a sign that one should be skeptical, but there is serious money behind the project and Axon boasts the largest funding round for any haptics company. So clearly someone is convinced enough to put their money on the table.
Like a Glove
A glove made from the HaptX material is likely to be the first product that AxonVR will actually sell. At this point however, any such product release talk is just a rumour. Certainly the tech demo that the company brought to the last CES was humongous and very clearly a prototype.
Reactions from journalists who have tried that prototype are however a clear indication that the base technology is the real deal. Spider legs, flames and tiny furry deer were all accurately reproduced for these lucky few. So we know Axon has the core technology ready. Now it’s just a matter of turning it into a marketable product.
My Body is Ready
While a glove would make perfect sense as an early consumer product, the real flagship system Axon is working on is the HaptX Skeleton. This is a system that covers your whole body in the HaptX material and also suspends you mechanically, allowing for all sorts of crazy experiences where you can fall, fly, jump and swim. At least in theory.
Axon’s work is incredibly exciting and their CES demo shows that they are almost there. We don’t know yet when we’ll see a final product, but here’s hoping that it will be sooner rather than later.