Tactical Haptics has won a federal National Science Foundation grant to develop touch-feedback systems that deliver a realistic sense of touch in virtual reality.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company has received a NSF Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II grant of $749,000, and it has also closed a $1.47 million seed round, for a combined total of $2.2 million in funding. The company’s seed round was led by SV Tech Ventures and the Youku Global Media Fund (a joint venture between CRCM VC and Youku Tudou), with participation from the SIG China investment fund, Sand Hill Angels, and the Stanford-StartX fund.

William Provancher of Tactical Haptics shows off the Reactive Grip a few years ago.

Above: William Provancher of Tactical Haptics shows off the Reactive Grip in 2013.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

The combined funds will allow the company to accelerate development and build out its team.

Tactical Haptics says that current haptic interfaces are either too expensive, have limited range of motion (force feedback devices), or are too crude (rumble) to portray a broad range of realistic haptic interactions in VR. Tactical Haptics has created an ungrounded haptic motion controller that utilizes a new form of touch feedback, technology I tried out three years ago,

It applies in-hand shear forces to create compelling physical feedback at a price that is viable for consumer markets. With this motion controller in hand, users get a realistic experience of the stretch of a bow and arrow, the inertia of a ball swinging on a chain, the impact of a ball on their virtual tennis racket, the tug of a fish in a fishing game, or the kick of a gun in their favorite shooter game.

The NSF SBIR grant is a two-year research and development grant focused on creating the minimum viable product (MVP) of the company’s haptic motion controller, which is targeted at gaming VR. The proposed research will improve user experience with these haptic controllers by reducing device size and mass and improving device ergonomics, as well as reducing cost.

The company’s touch feedback controller was also featured in NBC Learn’s Science of Innovation series (see story “Science of Innovation: Motion Controller for Virtual Reality”).

Tactical Haptics’s initial focus will be on creating a developer kit, including mini-games, for VR game developers, so they can integrate the company’s advanced haptic controller with their VR game content.

The developer kit will support multiple VR platforms, allowing developers to use the dev kit as a replacement for the HTC Vive or Oculus Touch controllers. The haptic dev kit could also support mobile VR interaction.

The company’s advanced touch feedback works by mimicking the friction and shear forces that we feel in the real world when holding an object or touching a surface. This is accomplished by tracking the movements of the player’s hand (e.g., using Valve’s SteamVR or Oculus VR’s Constellation Tracking) and actuating small sliding plates on the surface of the grip-region of the controller to recreate the friction and shear forces you’d experience when holding an actual object, such as a baseball bat, slingshot, or fishing rod.

In addition to gaming, this feedback could also be used in augmented reality, telerobotic interfaces for manufacturing and maintenance, industrial and construction operator interfaces, pilot training interfaces, automotive navigation and safety systems, computer-aided design (CAD), education, laparoscopic or telerobotic surgery, rehabilitation, swing training, or to guide the blind.

Founded in 2013, Tactical Haptics has a staff of seven.