Thursday, February 17, 2005

Mass market haptics

Right out of college I worked for a small hardware/software startup that developed haptics devices and software for the devices. It was a very fun place to work, a remarkable industry to work in, and a technology we all thought (well, at least I thought) would eventually make it to the general public and be widely used.

3.5 years later, much more jaded, I left that company. I no longer thought that mass market haptics would happen with our technology -- at least not by our company.

When I say mass market haptics, I'm referring to high fidelity haptics, not the kind you might find in a rumbling joystick or cellphone. Those are types of haptics too, but high fidelity single-point (or even multi-point) haptics interaction immerses you in a virtual environment in a way you really can't express in words. I've seen virtual surgery, sculpting, and even a virtual sonogram that allowed you to touch a 3d sonogram of your unborn child. Very cool.

Just a couple of days ago, Novint Technologies, the company behind the virtual sonogram software, announced their new haptics device at the DEMO conference. The Novint Falcon is a device very similar to the one my company used to make, with one exception: it's scheduled to market for about $100.

I haven't had the chance to use the Falcon yet, but the folks at the DEMO conference seemed to be pretty impressed with it. It leverages the technology made by Force Dimension, whose device I have had a chance to use and thought worked extremely well.

I know a few of the guys at Novint, and have had the chance to spend a batch of time with their President/CEO and CTO. These are brilliant guys and they're currently following what seems to be the right strategy to reach critical mass:

  • Make a product you can sell for under $100

  • Try to work with the big players since it's impossible to do it on your own

Novint needs to come up with a simple API and get it out to developers. Let the devleopers create the apps and drive the sales of the device. I think that's the only way to survive in a niche market like haptics.

Novint is getting a lot of good play on the web and in the blogosphere. They need to leverage this into as much exposure as they can and keep the PR ball rolling until they're actually ready to sell the device. The folks there are smart and I think they can do it.

So, probably about 7 years after I got into the haptics game (and much longer than that for many of the pioneers of haptics), and a couple of years after I got out of haptics, a high fidelity device might reach a mass market. I have bad timing. But, in my defense, I was one of the voices at my previous employer who was shouting that we were headed in the wrong direction. Sometimes it just takes too long to get the ship turned around.


Post a Comment

<< Home