Seattle startup calls Meta’s VR glove prototype ‘substantively identical’ to its own patented tech – GeekWire

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg uses a haptic glove research prototype intended to create a realistic sense of touch in the metaverse. (Meta Photo)

Meta made a big announcement Tuesday about how it hopes to bring touch to the virtual world through the use of haptic gloves developed by the company’s Reality Labs Research.

But the news came as a bit of a backhand to a Seattle startup that said it has been pioneering the technology since 2012.

HaptX has been working on haptic gloves that employ microfluidic feedback technology, with an aim toward helping enterprise customers working in virtual reality and robotics. In a statement to GeekWire, HaptX founder and CEO Jake Rubin said Meta’s gloves “appear to be substantively identical to HaptX’s patented technology.”

Rubin pointed to core components of the Meta prototype, including a silicone-based microfluidic tactile feedback laminate and pneumatic control architecture.

An early stage haptic glove research prototype from Meta’s Reality Labs Research. (Meta Photo)

In its news release and a longer blog post Tuesday, Meta listed examples of where its team was pushing human-computer interaction forward and “creating new breakthroughs to make haptic gloves a reality.” Among those breakthroughs, Meta listed microfluidics and said it was “developing the world’s first high-speed microfluidic processor.”

Rubin said HaptX welcomes “interest and competition in the field of microfluidic haptics; however, competition must be fair for the industry to thrive.”

He added that the startup has not heard from Meta but that HaptX would “look forward to working with them to reach a fair and equitable arrangement that addresses our concerns and enables them to incorporate our innovative technology into their future consumer products.”

GeekWire has reached out to Meta for reaction to HaptX’s assertions and will update this story when we hear back. Update: Meta declined to respond to HaptX’s assertions.

Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, generated a wave of interest when it rebranded last month and announced a deeper focus on connecting people with virtual and augmented reality technologies in the so-called metaverse.

Calling its haptic gloves “comfortable and customizable,” Meta said that they can reproduce a range of sensations in virtual worlds, including texture, pressure and vibration. 

That’s a similar pitch to technology HaptX has been developing. GeekWire first tested a prototype of HaptX gloves in 2016.

Meta said over the last seven years it has “pioneered new techniques, technologies and disciplines, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with soft robotics and inventing entirely new materials and manufacturing processes.”

The tech giant said its research is in its early stages, but the goal is to one day pair the gloves with consumer VR headsets to allow for for immersive experiences such as putting a puzzle together with a friend, or playing in a concert or poker game in the metaverse.

“We’re creating almost everything about this discipline from scratch,” Sean Keller, who leads AR/VR interaction and input research at Reality Labs Research, said in the Meta blog post. “We’re pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with soft robotics and instrumented tracking systems. And we’re inventing entirely new soft materials and manufacturing technologies — it’s a clean break from the past.”

The HaptX Gloves DK2. (HaptX Photo)

HaptX raised $12 million in new funding in July for continued development of its HaptX Gloves DK2, which it says physically and precisely displace the skin on a user’s hands and fingers.

Enterprise customers use the gloves to train their workforces; to design and test new vehicles; and to control robots from a distance, among other use cases.

Rubin, who grew up in Mercer Island, Wash., started HaptX as AxonVR when he was 22 years old. The company raised a $5.8 million seed round in 2016 and has raised $31 million to date.

Here’s the full statement from HaptX on Meta’s microfluidic glove prototype:

Over the last decade, HaptX has pioneered the field of microfluidic haptic feedback. Our award-winning technology has been widely covered in the popular and technology press, and we’ve worked tirelessly to develop and promote the unique benefits of microfluidics as an approach to high-fidelity haptic feedback. With the longstanding dedication of our engineers, developers, and investors, we have also secured an industry-leading patent portfolio to protect our technology and products.

In interacting with other companies in the VR industry, we have always believed that cooperation is paramount to the development of the industry as a whole. Over the years, we’ve hosted many engineers, researchers, and executives from Meta to demonstrate our groundbreaking haptic technology.

Today, Meta announced their own prototype microfluidic haptic feedback glove. The core components of this prototype, including the silicone-based microfluidic tactile feedback laminate and pneumatic control architecture, appear to be substantively identical to HaptX’s patented technology. We welcome interest and competition in the field of microfluidic haptics; however, competition must be fair for the industry to thrive.

While we have not yet heard from Meta, we look forward to working with them to reach a fair and equitable arrangement that addresses our concerns and enables them to incorporate our innovative technology into their future consumer products.

Sincerely,

Jake Rubin

Founder & CEO, HaptX

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