Q&A With HaptX Joe Michaels: “With haptic technology, the sky’s the limit. The universe is the limit.”
Read Time: 4 minutes
We sat down with Joe Michaels, Chief Revenue Officer at HaptX, Inc., to discuss everything from the founding of HaptX, Inc. to the future of haptic gloves for virtual reality training.
Ready to learn more about how haptic gloves are transforming corporate virtual reality training? Let’s dive into our one-on-one Q&A with Joe Michaels to learn more about this advanced technology.
Joe Michaels is the Chief Revenue Officer at HaptX Inc., a manufacturer of technology that simulates touch feedback for robotics and virtual reality (VR). With over 15 years of business development experience, Joe specializes in creating partnerships with organizations on the leading edge of new media and extended reality (XR) technologies.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What’s the origin story of HaptX and how did you get involved?
HaptX starts with a brilliant college dropout named Jake Rubin who was studying entrepreneurship at Washington University in St. Louis. With too many ideas, Jake dropped out and decided to start a company that really represented his passion — immersion in video games. He looked at the world of video games and realized the place he could contribute the most was touch feedback, also known as haptics. With the help of Dr. Bob Crockett, a college professor who liked his ideas, they started what is now called HaptX.
To help commercialize the technology, they hired me in 2016. Together, we pivoted the company to enterprise where the most productive work was being done when it came to VR and haptics. I was very lucky that what the company needed at this time was someone who could help commercialize their amazing inventions.
What is your background working in technology and haptics?
My background is in all kinds of technologies and media companies. After doing ecommerce, digital content, and online video, I became really excited about VR and joined HaptX to commercialize the product. I’ve been at it for about 5 ½ years now.
When I first met the company, all HaptX had was an early version of the technology that used a large steel box that you’d stick your hand inside to feel different sensations. The climactic moment of this demo was a spider walking across my hand where I could feel each one of its legs. After feeling this, I knew that this technology was something really special.
What are some use cases for haptic gloves for corporate training?
While we talk frequently about military and medical training, there are industrial uses for haptic gloves too. Haptic gloves have multiple industrial uses across topics, from safety training for employees on a manufacturing floor to equipment training for employees who complete hands-on work. There’s a long list of tasks that involve using your hands on the job that haptic gloves are a suitable solution for.
How do HaptX gloves operate?
HaptX Gloves are the only gloves on the market that provide true-contact haptics where you feel like you’re realistically interacting with the virtual world. The biggest differentiator for us is our patented microfluidic technology that uses compressed air to power our haptic feedback. Compressed air inflates and deflates actuators which are located on the surface of the silicone material that lines the inside of the gloves. The compressed air can physically move your skin precisely, which gives learners the feeling of true contact with a virtual object. There are 133 tactile actuators within each glove, which is what makes our feedback so realistic.
This same microfluidic approach is used to provide the force feedback. We use an air brake to stop the motion of your fingers so they feel the correct size and shape of a virtual object. Microfluidics power both our force feedback and tactile feedback, which makes things much easier for us from an engineering perspective.
What’s the biggest benefit to haptic gloves for VR training?
It’s important to avoid negative training, meaning learning the wrong things and then having to unlearn them. When you’re learning in VR, it’s in your nature to just want to reach out and start using your hands like you do in real life. Today, we force a lot of people in VR to interact with the virtual world through a plastic controller with triggers, buttons, and grips. If you teach someone how to do a task in VR with handheld controllers, the learner may struggle in the real world to apply what they’ve learned.
We suggest that organizations use haptic gloves to teach their hands to do the task correctly the first time and repeat it over and over again correctly to build muscle memory. It’s all about real, accurate muscle memory, and HaptX Gloves enable learners to do that. You can build fine and gross motor skills with these gloves, then your body knows how to behave when it’s asked to perform tasks in a real-world situation.
Of course the magic of true-contact haptics works best when the gloves are paired with world-class content, like the training content from Roundtable Learning.
What is the future of haptic gloves for virtual reality training?
We’re partnering with countless companies on the content, hardware, and software sides to bring our vision to life and leapfrog from where we are today to our vision of the future. When you’re a small company, you have very few resources to invest, so when you partner with another company, you agree that you’ll use your resources to work toward your shared goal. We’re following the long tradition of innovation through collaboration.
We see a great future for networked multi-player haptics, which will be really exciting for training and employee collaboration. Also, we’re looking at increasing learner immersion with full body haptics to open the door to new kinds of sensations that take the immersive feeling to the next level. We have all the technology already developed to get to full body immersive training, and we are taking very deliberate steps toward our long-term vision of full body immersion. This will be a system that enables you to simulate the feeling of realistic touch feedback and any behavior and movement in a virtual environment.
With this technology, the sky’s the limit. The universe is the limit.