Startup Tactai inked a deal with Ericsson as its first client and will offer CES 2017 attendees a hands-on demonstration of its “Dynamic Tactile Wave” technology at the Ericsson booth.
The Waltham, Mass.-based company developed technology that works across traditional video, augmented reality, and virtual reality allowing users to touch, feel, grasp, and interact with virtual objects using its Tactai Touch finger tip wearable.
Tactai worked with Ericsson to create a virtual video experience where CES attendees can flip through a number of home video titles using just hands and fingers to navigate and make a selection, and in the process actually feel the interactions. The companies are also demonstrating a new user interface for VR where Tactai allows content to have embedded interactive elements that respond to touch.
“Viewers can pause content playback using natural movements and proceed to touch, grab and interact with elements of the video on the screen,” said Steven D. Domenikos, CEO of Tactai. “Ericsson and Tactai have jointly developed our Touch technology, which allows content creators and owners to incorporate interactive elements for product information or to deliver contextual information, including embedded 3D experiences, into new or existing VR/AR content.”
Jonathan Talbert, Ericsson Experience Lab Engineer, told UploadVR that Tactai’s technology fits in well with VR media and Internet of Things concepts Ericsson has been showcasing for the past few years. Globally, Ericsson is the leading mobile infrastructure and media platform vendor.
“With 5G networks on the horizon, it’s important for us to understand next generation applications that will be used on those networks,” Talbert said. “Virtual reality is one application dependent on the next generation performance of 5G networks and media delivery platforms. Similar to the way video and social media is dependent on 4G networks, VR and AR will be dependent on 5G networks. Mobile operators will depend on Ericsson to understand VR, and other future applications when building their networks. Operators want 5G networks that fulfill the needs of users when applications like VR become mainstream.”
Ericsson’s focus at CES 2017 is 5G and the applications 5G will enable in a mobile environment. The concept being developed with Tactai will be an evolution of Ericsson’s existing next generation VR media experience.
“Attendees will be able to sit in the middle of the tradeshow floor (at CES), and be transported to a virtual living room where they’ll be immersed in media with the ability to control content with the swipe of a finger,” Talbert said. “Not only will they be able to control and consume media on a virtual 75-inch screen in a virtual living room, but also interact and feel objects on that screen. Imagine being able to not just interact but also feel the texture of an object on the screen. That is the type of experience that will drive VR to be the next big application.”
Ericsson’s MediaFirst Video Processing and MediaFirst Delivery Platforms currently enable broadcasters, content providers and service providers to preserve and deliver video at every critical stage ranging from production/broadcast/encoding/distribution/consumption. Talbert said virtual reality will be the future of how media Ericsson delivers is consumed.
Talbert said until recently, video consumption has been very “two-sense” oriented. All that the user could absorb is sensed through sight and sound. Adding a touch haptic track to video enables a third sensory dimension to consuming video.
“The ability to reach into a video and pull out an object to explore its three-dimensional properties has many applications in the educational, scientific and advertising markets,” Talbert said. “Ericsson believes there is value added to video when more sensory information can be conveyed to the end user.”
It takes minutes to convert existing 2D and 3D objects to add haptics. The company is creating a library of content in Unity that offers textures and other touch elements to 2D and 3D objects. In order to experience touch, users need the Tactai Touch device. Ericsson will be manufacturing the devices. Tactai’s business is to license out its technology to companies interested in adding touch to content.
Domenikos said the prototype devices cost about $12 to make, but a large company with manufacturing capabilities could reduce that cost even further.
“Ericsson is responsible for approximately 80% of repackaged videos on tablets and smartphones of all type of music videos and Hollywood content,” Domenikos said. “They can separate the audio and video track and introduce a third Tactai Touch Track that can be used for haptics to augment the video and make it more interesting.”
Talbert said this collaboration will propagate the concept of haptic tracks in video and encourage our customers (studios, broadcasters, content providers, service providers) to produce and distribute more of this kind of content.
“It could also open new markets for video editors to author haptic tracks for the decades of legacy content which can be retrofit with new tangible objects,” Talbert said.
This technology has been in development for some time, although the ability to deliver it at a low cost directly to consumers is new. Dr. Katherine Kuchenbecker, chief science officer at Tactai, has spent the past 15 years researching haptics in virtual reality at Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania.
“By understanding how people touch, feel, and manipulate real objects, we engineers get new ideas about how to make interactions with distant and virtual objects feel compellingly real,” Kuchenbecker said.
Kuchenbecker said Tactai Touch closely recreates how humans perceive the presence of objects and their surface characteristics when interacting with them in the real world. Tactai’s patent-pending Dynamic Tactile Wave technology creates multi-modal experiences bringing touch, sound and light together.
Outside of the Ericsson deal, Domenikos is also speaking to A-list musicians – many of whom have already jumped into the VR fray – about exploring touch to make VR experiences more exciting for fans.
“You could incorporate touch to either a livestreamed or static VR experience,” Domenikos said.
Kuchenbecker believes Tactai could represent the feeling of virtual hair reasonably well today – allowing a fan the ability to reach out and touch a rock star’s locks virtually. Or the touch technology could help sell clothing or other merchandise by being able to feel the texture of the product.
“The implications for touch in online shopping are huge, Kuchenbecker said. “It brings the user closer to objects they want to purchase. Touch is an important part of the shopping experience.”
Touch could also help virtual reality – and the growing augmented reality – industries in another way. Domenikos said both industries need content, whether it’s touch-enabled or not. And adding touch to 2D and 3D objects could give VR users a very large library with which to interact.