We're joined for a special interview with Greg Bilsland of HaptX to talk about VR for Commerce and how touch in VR isn't as elusive as you may believe. Impossible technology worth paying attention to now: how realistic haptics will add another dimension to our immersive experiences in retail and training.

What is HaptX?

  • Jake Rubin founded HaptX in 2012. HaptX's vision is for a full body system to deliver realistic touch to VR users.
  • The ultimate promise of virtual reality is to open up impossible worlds and experiences to you and experience them with unprecedented realism.

What is the specific definition of symbolic and realistic haptics?

  • It's the science and Technology of touch.
  • It's understanding how our body interacts with all the things around us.
  • Most people experience it in your phone, the touchpad in your mouse, or the rumble in a gaming controller.
  • Remember the Nintendo Rumble Pak? That was early haptics. That technology was an offset motor spinning around to create vibrational effect: that's symbolic haptics. It's only representing something happening in an abstract way.
  • Realistic haptics delivers the actual sense of displacement on your skin when you touch something.
  • Tactile feedback: Imagine putting your finger against the tines of a fork and you see all those points that are physically displacing on your finger. That's where you're actually feeling those points.
  • Force feedback: imagine trying to bend a spoon: you're pushing on it and feeling resistance.
  • Combine those two things and you get realistic haptics. A sense that you're touching a real object even though you're  in the virtual world.

This seems like far future technology, but you're talking about it as current technology. Where do the technologies come from and what are its current and practical uses?

  • Jake Rubin found that you could leverage the current game engine tech, Unity and Unreal, to bring touch to them.
  • It turns out is has huge implications across commerce and retail and training.
  • Imagine flight simulators taking VR and using haptic gloves to utilize training for pilots.
  • Any professional role that needs training can utilize haptics in VR.

What is the broad industry specific use of this tech? Is there anything currently existing? How do you see haptics being applied in the consumer space?

  • Long term, haptic devices are going to make their way into the consumer space because VR will be part of retail experience.
  • Short term, It's more of an enterprise tool.
  • Companies doing commerce that benefit the most from haptic: a large physical space where consumers do their shopping or a large physical space they have to store something.
  • Consider companies like Lowes and Home Depot. They have huge stores that are expensive to lease and keep tstocked.
  • They're looking to VR to reduce that footprint so that their customers can have the whole store experience brought to them in a small package.
  • Ikea is doing the same thing.
  • You'll see more consumers using VR and haptics when at locations that can install VR and haptics.

What's your endgame goal for seeing retail applying haptics?

  • The long term vision is doing things and navigating immersive environments using your hands instead of using controller. We're a long way off before the price point makes that a feasible scenario.

Can you tell us the price point? Do you have a new product?

  • HaptX gloves: we have the first haptic glove to deliver realistic feedback all in one package.
  • We're sharing that at Sundance in a few weeks.
  • It's the first hardware product to debut at Sundance since Oculus. We're only selling a LImited amount of these products to strategic investors and companies.

Will you see your product initially showcased by different companies showing off their tech to customers?

  • Experience centers will be initial major way for consumers to interact with this technology.
  • You might see them at VR arcades at places like malls or experiential centers.
  • Entertainment will be a space for consumers to use haptic experiences.
  • Branded experiences: the brands doing VR right are companies like Disney partnering with Nissan to do a Star Wars experience.
  • To be successful, they create a real sense of value among the consumer. They're  delivering utility to customers.

Future Policy with Danny Sepulveda

  • President Trump's proposal is to close the borders to competition and do something on the tax side to put more money in people's pockets. And he's executed on that.
  • Two relevant books: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.  
  • JD Vance theoretically explains the destruction of the low wage white Appalachian culture.
  • Coate's book is about what it means, and what it takes, to grow up black in America.
  • The reason these issues are important is because the policy decisions we make occur within not just economics and commerce, they occur within the four corners of law, human ingenuity, and regulation.
  • How we react to how commerce is changing fundamentally affects the manner in which human beings live within their communities, govern themselves, and view themselves.
  • As we look to struggling communities, like the ones described by Coates and Vance, we see centers of production, wealth, and commerce concentrating in specific places and the rest of the country living of off it.
  • It's unsustainable because of what it means to the American promise that birth is not destined.
  • Once social mobility is restricted we lose the american promise.
  • That is the fundamental problem.
  • The concentration of power, wealth, and authority will be central to our conversations going forward and what that means for people's everyday lives.

Could you address any critics that say your technology only further isolates people from having real world experiences?

  • Haptics ultimately have the ability to bridge distance and bring touch to what would normally be an isolating experience.
  • Consider using Skype to give your parents a hug or hold their hand while you're talking to them. The isolation criticism has always been there going back to the argument that TV would rot our brains.
  • But It depends on the content makers and their users to discipline themselves to how they use that technology.
  • Brian says that the more realistic we can make them and mimic the real world, the closer to a real world experience will enhance that connectedness.

Touch is something we've been missing from media. How do you foresee CMOs and marketers building out branding experiences with this?

  • VR is still a novelty for a lot of consumers and so brands will try to use experiences to wow their consumers to create a really strong brand impression.
  • Eventually consumers will become savvy enought to recognize the good from the bad VR experiences.
  • That's when marketers are going to want a deeper level of immersion to create a competitive edge over their competitors.
  • Imagine going to REI and be able to try on gear and ascend Mt Rainier. It's easy to see how immersion helps sell the experience.

So how much can you feel? Can feel something slimy? Can you feel weight? Texture?

  • Slimy and textures are challenging simply because they're a function of vibration.
  • When you run your hand over something, the sensation is actually your hand vibrating at various frequencies.
  • That's something we're working on to get the actuator technology.
  • Actuators are little bubbles that inflate and deflate that create the sensation of texture.
  • Slime is a little ways off.
  • But running your hands over wheat, or a rocky surface, or even over a wall is something we can do really well.
  • Weight is an interesting challenge: to feel something truly weighty, you need a full body exoskeleton to apply the downward pressure on your arm.

Are you heading toward full body suits?

  • Our original vision was to create full body suits, and that remains a goal, but our expertise is in touch.
  • We're really good at translating the digital into tactile experience.
  • Other companies doing really awesome exoskeleton systems.
  • Long term training, if you want to give them a true fully immersive experience, that's where we'd probably partner with a company who could do the exoskeleton type experiences to create the "climb eht mountain" experience.

Does haptics add to presence illusion?

  • There's a lot of progress to be made.
  • While we've been able to simulate touch better than any other company, it's going to take time to continue to progress.
  • Example: when black and white TV first came out, it was amazing. Then color arrived and black and white was no longer interesting. Same with HD television, our standards increase.
  • The goal posts are always moving.
  • We're always going to try to move with the advancements in the field.

VR is still a novel experience

Retailers are starting to understand that certain tech can only be utilized and work in certain mediums. Are you enabling experiences and interfaces that couldn't already be realized?

  • We want to create areas where you are able to use your hands in an immersive environment to interact with 3D objects in a way that feels intuitive.

Have you explored the medical community as well?

  • We've had a number of universities and medical communities reach out to us, especially in the training field.
  • Imagine how much more comfortable you'd feel going into an operation that a doctor has already performed on you with VR and realistic haptics?

What's the use case for Augmented Reality and HaptX?

  • Haptics and AR are compatible but it's a much bigger technical challenge due to the way that most AR hardware works.  
  • AR uses a kind of inside out tracking, taking a lot of snapshots of the environment and using complicated math to tell the relative position of the device so an object can remain locked in the virtual environment.
  • Where that gets tricky is that haptics requires a really high level of precision to be able to deliver a realistic experience.
  • If you're going to reach out your hand and poke a button, you need that button to push back against you at precisely where you see that button, otherwise it's going to feel wrong.
  • You need submillimeter accuracy to make that work.
  • AR isn't there yet with the tech. Until we hear more from customers demanding haptics from AR its not something that we're going to focus on.

Any advice to our merchant listeners about when they should be investing in this?

Is there anything we should be doing in this coming year? Anything about VR? What should we avoid? What about next 5 years? What should we be prepared for?

  • VR is still a novelty for most consumers so merchants can rely on that to create experiences that are memorable.
  • Adoption curve for VR that's more like the 90s cell phone market. I don't think in 5 years we're going to turn around and see 90% of Americans owning VR headsets.
  • It always comes down to thinking about your business and how you're solving your consumers' problems. If you're in the travel industry: give them a 360 or VR experience to help solve your customers problems. But that's not going to be true of every industry.
  • The branded AR and VR experiences are going to have a real long tail for brands and merchants who invest in delivering utility and value to their customers.
  • The 5 year outlook is thinking about how VR and Haptics are going to apply to how you're going to train your workforce and how you're designing products.
  • How you're using the new tools of VR and Haptics to build prototypes.
  • Look at what the big companies are doing and if they're not investing in AR and VR then it might not be time to make those investments yet.
  • If you're interested in VR now, then you're ahead of the curve.
  • Immersive and wearable computing is going to be the next wave of technological adoption. It's worth paying attention to even if it doesn't match your business right now.

Thanks, Greg Bilsland. Go check out HaptX.com for more information on this new technology.

Guests

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Brian: [00:01:06] Welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about cutting edge and next generation commerce, rated as top five podcasts for consumer brands by Bobsled marketing. I'm Brian.

Phillip: [00:01:15] And I'm Phillip.

Brian: [00:01:16] Today we have Greg Bilsland, Senior Communications Manager at HaptX. Really excited to have you on. Thanks for being here, Greg.

Greg: [00:01:24] Thanks. Yeah, happy to be here. And thank you for pronouncing that name of the company right.

Brian: [00:01:28] Yes. I've been keeping track of you guys for a while, and I'm excited to talk about you. But as always you want to stay ahead of retail tech? Subscribe to our FC Insiders newsletter today to get the data you need to stay ahead of the game. With that...

Phillip: [00:01:44] Where can they go subscribe, Brian?

Brian: [00:01:48] Oh yeah, the most important part of that statement. Go to FutureCommerce.fm and click on the Subscribe Now button either at the top of your screen or in our menu and get your email in there. And actually I think Philip's got a nice little treat for new subscribers. We have a subscription success page, and you can let him say some stuff and...

Phillip: [00:02:11] Yeah.

Brian: [00:02:11] Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Phillip: [00:02:14] I love that Brian's really impressed with any small, low effort thing that I do these days, so I'm just gonna keep those trickling out.

Brian: [00:02:23] Okay. So I have to say, though, I think that this subscription confirmation page is the only one I've ever seen that has audio in it. There you go.

Phillip: [00:02:35] Ok. Well, now you have to go subscribe. Make sure you go to FutureCommerce.fm. You want to hear that ultra sexy dulcet tones of Phillip Jackson coming down to welcome to our email newsletter. We are so far off base today.

Greg: [00:02:50] Well I'm excited to subscribe now.

Phillip: [00:02:54] {laughter}

Brian: [00:02:54] Well, let's get this thing going.

Phillip: [00:02:55] Ok. All right. So, yeah, for those of us who aren't engaged in this world. What is HaptX, and what exactly do you guys do? And tell us a little bit about what your role is there and how are you enabling commerce?

Greg: [00:03:11] Yeah. Thanks, Phillip. So HaptX is a startup, and we're part of the virtual reality space. So we're working on peripherals for virtual reality. Although even though I call it a startup, it's kind of a bit of a misnomer because we've actually been around for about five years. HaptX was actually founded back in 2012 by a fellow named Jake Rubén, who at the time was 20. It's one of those things that kind of put your life into a little bit of perspective. So he dropped out of college and founded the company because this was even before the Oculus Kickstarter. He saw this wave of virtual reality coming and he thought that there would be a need for devices that would actually give you a sense of touch in virtual reality. So while a lot of the other companies were focused on what you could see and hear, he had a vision for a full body haptic system that would deliver a realistic touch to VR users. I joined the company just about six months ago. I was actually the second hire in the marketing department. So as Senior Communications Manager, I'm a bit of a jack of all trades working on the website, PR, social media. Prior to that, I worked in project management at marketing for the Dungeons and Dragons brand for about a decade.

Phillip: [00:04:30] Wow. Well, those two things might be pretty compatible from an experiential point of view, right? Dungeons and Dragons or any sort of role playing game... I have to channel my 13 year old self now. But I remember it being a very immersive feeling of sort of inhabiting this other world. And I guess that's kind of what you're doing now still in the virtual reality space.

Greg: [00:04:57] Yeah, definitely. I would say Dungeons and Dragons is only limited by your imagination. And I think that the ultimate promise of virtual reality, both through haptics and through head mounted displays, is to open up sort of impossible worlds, impossible experiences to you, so you can be a bird flying through the air, or you can go to fantasy worlds and experience them with unprecedented realism.

Phillip: [00:05:24] Wow.

Brian: [00:05:26] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:05:26] Awesome.

Greg: [00:05:27] Yeah, I was actually at D&D when I had my first VR experience, which was really got what got me interested. They had a a simulator where you could play and sit around a table and play D&D in virtual reality. And I was like, "This is the future."

Brian: [00:05:42] And that makes complete sense. And actually you kind of mentioned, you know, what haptics is in a general sense. I would love to hear kind of a little bit more specific definition. I think there's different types of haptics. And we can go back to Dungeons Dragons here in just a minute. But for the audience maybe talk a little bit about the difference between symbolic and realistic haptics and what tactile feedback is and all of that. You know, sort of like nitty gritty of haptics.

Greg: [00:06:17] Yeah. I mean, so broadly speaking, haptics is the science and technology of touch. So it's understanding how our body interacts with all the things around us. But most people experience haptics in technology through things like the vibration in your phone or the touch pad in your mouse or if you're a gamer, the rumble of your controller. Brian, your era of an age, you might remember what the N64 rumble pack controller?

Brian: [00:06:45] Rumble pack. Oh yeah. You bet. That was a big deal.

Greg: [00:06:48] Yep. Yeah. So we like to point to that as sort of early haptics. And basically that's just a motor. It's an off-center motor. It's called an eccentric rotating motor that spins around to create a vibrational effect. And we refer to that as symbolic haptics because it's only really representing something in an abstract way that's happening. And so it's used for alerts or if you're driving your Mario Kart with your N64 controller, you crash and it might rumble, but you don't really feel your self like bumping into something. It just rumbles. Versus a realistic feedback, realistic haptics is something that we like to talk about because it is what delivers that actual sense of displacement that you get on your skin when you touch something. And this is kind of a hard thing to actually describe without showing you. But if you imagine like a fork that you put your finger against the tines of that fork, and you see all those points on your finger that are physically displacing it. That's where you're actually feeling those points. That's tactile feedback. And sort of a corollary to that is force feedback, which if you imagine a spoon that you're trying to bend and you're pushing against it, you're feeling resistance. And when you combine those two things, force feedback and tactile feedback, what you get as realistic haptics, a sense that you're actually touching a real object even though you're in the virtual world.

Brian: [00:08:22] Wow.

Phillip: [00:08:24] Wow.

Greg: [00:08:26] A lot to unpack there. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:08:28] Very rarely do you get both of us out of things to say. So there's a lot there. My question would be this seems like a far future technology, but you're talking about it like it's a current right now thing. So tell me a little bit about, you know, where the technologies come from and what its current uses and practical uses are.

Greg: [00:08:51] Yeah, definitely. It's funny because the Ready Player One trailer just dropped, and it's a movie that's going to really popularize, I think, virtual reality and haptics. And it was supposed to be kind of this distant vision of the future. But what, Jake, our founder really realized is that you could leverage a lot of the existing game engine technology out there, Unity and Unreal. And these virtual environments have all these physical properties associated with them. So while this initially started with kind of a vision about how to do realistic environments within games and deliver touch in those games, it turns out that it has huge implications across commerce and retail and training. Because if you imagine like a flight simulator. Flight simulators have been around for 20, 30, 40 years. And right now they're done through the cave technology, which is done through projection on a bunch of screens, and they're done with these big ten, twenty million dollar devices. With VR, once you have a VR headset, you can create the environment that looks real, but you need to be able to touch it as well to be able to train accurately. You don't want a fighter pilot who has only trained on game controllers, for example. You want them to be able to train realistically with the objects they're actually going to use. So having a set of gloves, realistic, haptic gloves, that can deliver that experience really is essential to training. There's a whole bunch of other use cases I can touch on. But if you just imagine that scenario for the fighter pilot applying to almost any professional role that requires training, you can kind of see the implications this has really across VR and use cases.

Phillip: [00:10:47] So my sense is that there are likely... It doesn't matter what technology it is. There's always an application somewhere. So right now we're seeing Internet of things like IOT type technology being used in engineering applications and manufacturing, even in things like oil supply pipelines and analytics for manufacturing businesses. And it's just crazy where that's being worked in. So there must be some sort of a broad industry specific use of this type of technology. Is there anything like that that's currently in existence? And then how do you see that being applied in the consumer space?

Greg: [00:11:29] Yeah. So you mean specifically around haptics?

Phillip: [00:11:32] Yeah.

Greg: [00:11:32] Versus virtual reality?

Phillip: [00:11:34] Right.

Greg: [00:11:34] Yeah. So, you know, I think that when we look long term at haptic devices, they are going to make their way into the consumer space because I think virtual reality will be sort of a part of retail, the retail shopping experience, ultimately. But just to be clear, our technology, we see it more as an enterprise tool in the short term. So, you know, there's a lot of companies that are already starting to do it like a lot of retail training. Striver is a company that is partnering with Walmart to train its workforce. And I think that when I think about what are the companies, the companies doing commerce that are going to benefit the most from a haptic technology, it's really anywhere where there's a company that has a large physical space or a large space where consumers do their shopping or a large physical space where they have to store everything. So when you think about a company like Lowe's or Home Depot, huge, huge stores, very expensive to lease the space, to keep it stocked, and these are companies that are looking at virtual reality as an area where they can reduce that footprint by allowing people to customize their spaces, to design their homes within the store and then have that kind of the whole store experience brought to them in a compact package. IKEA is doing actually the same thing. They've been building out. So I think that to kind of get back to your question. Initially, we're going to see a lot more consumers interacting with VR and particularly haptics when they're at locations that can install VR and haptic systems just because the consumer... You have to kind of create the use case for the consumer before they're ready to bring that back home and understand how that's actually going to be a value to them.

Phillip: [00:13:45] Right.

Brian: [00:13:45] Wow, that's amazing. I want to dove into that a little bit more. In a perfect world, how do you see a retail company applying haptic technology? Or not a perfect world... I should say, sort of end game, how do you see retail applying haptics? Is it just training, or is it just sort of some experiences you described for consumers to sort of build their homes and so on? I mean, I was just thinking about how you could also, and maybe you were already kind of referring to this, so maybe I'm still kind of getting my brain around this, but I could see a Home Depot or Lowe's putting out some sort of a training program where someone comes in and uses haptic technology to do sort of like, you know, DIY training and really get a feel for what it would be like to use a specific tool before they go out to the field and use it. Is that basically what you're saying?

Greg: [00:14:43] Mmm hmm.

Brian: [00:14:43] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:14:43] Like a fork lift driver or something like that?

Brian: [00:14:46] No. I mean, I was talking about even on a consumer end. Like someone comes into a store, they want to rent a jackhammer and you're like, okay, here's our training course for a jackhammer. And you put them in VR and you give them, you know, give them haptic gloves. And then they feel what it's like to hold a jackhammer in their hands. So that's actually required that they do that before they rent that tool.

Greg: [00:15:11] Yeah, you're absolutely right, Brian, that that kind of application has immediate implications for the user. And in kind of going to that earlier point I was making about game controllers, that's not something you can ever experience realistically with just a set of game controllers. So part of the reason for the need for a realistic haptics, for a set of gloves, is to be able to train in a way that that actually feels intuitive because if I hand a game controller to my mom she's not going to know what the heck to do with it. I ask her to use her hands. Well, she's had, you know, 60 some odd years of using them and is actually pretty good at using them. So they're the tool you're born with and that you're probably most adept at using. So I do want to make a point, though, like I do think there is an implication long term, or a use case long term, for consumers to have at home haptic devices. It is still kind of part of our long term vision, but it's not something that we see as very immediate. And that is because people are going to want to be able to do things like the training course I've described. They're going to want to be able to navigate immersive environments and entertainment at home through, again, using their hands versus a controller. But, you know, we are a long way off before price point makes that actually a feasible scenario.

Brian: [00:16:39] So are you allowed to disclose price points right now? And I believe you also just recently released a product, so maybe you could tell us about that.

Greg: [00:16:46] Yeah, definitely. So, yeah, I'll say what I can about the roll out. We just announce HaptX gloves. So that's our first product. And we would like to say that it's really the first haptic glove to deliver realistic feedback, powerful force feedback, as well as precise motion tracking all in one package. There are other haptic devices out there. Many of them just rely solely on vibration. And we're actually gonna be... Just a quick, like kind of promo... We are going to be sharing that at Sundance in a few weeks.

Brian: [00:17:16] Cool.

Phillip: [00:17:16] Oh wow.

Greg: [00:17:16] And that's our actually first public demonstration. And it's the first hardware product to actually debut at Sundance since Oculus. Really excited about that. But, you know, in the immediate term, we have a very limited number of these devices that we're really making available to select enterprise partners, strategic investors. And that's because we see the whole VR ecosystem as a marathon, not a sprint. Enterprise adoption is going to drive a lot of the technology and the development. And all the customers say they see all of these use case opportunities for the haptics, but particularly in the training area, which is why I've kind of been talking about that in the context of commerce.

Brian: [00:18:04] One thing I just to connected the dots on. We made a prediction in our last episode, episode 55, that because of the cost of a lot of emerging tech, that a lot of retailers are going to have to sort of pool resources or share through services like One Market, which was a spin out of Westfield, which, by the way, Phillip, we didn't talk about Westfield getting acquired. That's something...

Phillip: [00:18:35] Oh yeah. That's a whole separate can of worms.

Brian: [00:18:39] But essentially, One Market's a network, a way for brands and retailers to be able to leverage data and tech together and share that experience. There are other stories coming out about this. The CMO at Magento just posted something about this recently, Bloomberg article on this. But in short, I could see this being something that like, you know, it sits in like an experience room in a mall or something like that. And then you can like pull up different brand experiences. And maybe there's some sort of sharing that happens. And really there are just different modules that are associated with using a single device, at least until the price point comes down. Do you see that maybe being a future kind of...and I hate to put it in these terms, but it's kind of an arcade sort of feel to it because of the costs associated with the tech?

Greg: [00:19:35] Yeah. Yeah. So there's a lot to unpack there. You know, we see location based entertainment, which would include VR arcades, which will frequently probably be at malls as well as more experiential centers, like The Void, being big use cases for us. And so I think that entertainment actually is going to be a way that consumers will experience a lot of the haptic devices. But I like the point that you make about branded experiences, because I think that right now when I look at what brands are doing VR right, it's companies like Disney, which recently partnered with Nissan to do a Star Wars experience. And these are entertainment experiences. Or they could be training experiences at VR locations that create a real sense of value among the consumer. Because you're delivering utility. I like to call to this, there's this great app or this application that somebody did when AR first came out that was a measurement tool. It was just a simple measurement tool. But if you're Home Depot, wouldn't it be great to have an augmented reality app, that's just a measuring tape that all of your customers are using because it creates a touchpoint for that brand? And so bringing it back around to what you're saying, I think that experience centers, whatever you want to call them, at malls and in cities are going to be initially a major way that consumers are going to be interacting with this technology, both VR and AR, as well as more emergent technologies like haptics.

Announcer: [00:21:19] Now it's time for our weekly segment called Future Policy, brought to you by Vertex SMB. And as always, we're joined by former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Danny Sepulveda.

Danny Sepulveda: [00:21:30] This is the central struggle of what the next leader of our country is going to have to propose. You have to have a message that is one of economics, an opportunity that people will understand and embrace. If we're going to... If my party is ever going to be in power again. And you know what? President Trump made a proposal about economics. His fundamental proposal was essentially close the borders off to competition and you close the borders off the people entering and taking jobs from you. And you do something on the tax side to put more money in individual people's pockets. Go. And he's executed on that. I don't believe that's the right solution. So we have to come up with an alternative solution. I believe in open markets. I believe in the free flow of ideas and people and information. And I believe that has worked well on on net. But at the same time, I've read two books in the last year that have deeply affect me. One is Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me, and the other is J.D. Vance's, The Hillbilly Elegy. And J.D. Vance is borderline famous because of this book, because it theoretically explains to those of us who don't live in Appalachia why Appalachia is where it is economically today. And that's a situation in which you see what happens when not just low wage jobs, but when entire means of production shut down. It's not just that you lose the low wage job within that means of production. You lose the leadership and sense of community that people have from belonging to something larger than themselves that they're proud of producing. Right? And that when you have a whole community sustained only essentially by welfare payments and low wage jobs as opposed to a production mechanism within that community, it destroys the fiber and nature of a community. And you see this as well in the other book that I mentioned, which is Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me, which is a letter to his son about what it means to be black in America. What it was like to grow up in Baltimore, in the poor side of Baltimore. And what that meant or how you felt about yourself. The reason these issues are important is not really because of technology. It's not really because, you know, you can have PHDs debating with each other. It is because these decisions that we make for economics and commerce don't occur on their own. They occur within the four corners of law and human ingenuity and regulation. Well how we react to how commerce is changing, fundamentally affects the manner in which human beings live in their communities, govern themselves, and view themselves. Right? So as we look to communities in Appalachia, or as we look to inner city communities, or as we look now to places like where my wife grew up, which is in Binghamton, New York, which has a SUNY Binghamton there. But it used to be a place where IBM was headquartered and there were tons of other kinds of jobs. And it's not a happy place. We are having centers of production, wealth and commerce concentrating in specific places and the rest of the country living off of it. And that is unsustainable. The fundamental problem here is that it's unsustainable because of what it means to the American promise. The American promise is that birth is not destiny. You are born and then all men are created equal, not in the sense that we all actually have equal abilities. The goal is to have all men be created equal in the sense that you all have a relatively equal opportunity to make the most of yourself. Once birth becomes destiny, once social mobility... And social mobility has been on a dramatic decline since the 1970s. That is the that is not the American promise. That's a fundamental problem. And there are a whole host of public policy solutions to that. There are also market solutions to that. And these were things that we talked about before. But as we move forward, I think one of the recurring themes you're going to hear in our conversations is this debate and concern about the concentration of power, wealth and authority and what that means in everyday people's lives.

Phillip: [00:27:56] It's interesting because if you follow, this is sort of like one of those idioms where if you if you watch progress in reverse, right? So if we watch video games and the history of video game entertainment in reverse, you have these like sort of really sophisticated sort of at home only experiences sort of working backwards and converging towards more social experiences and malls with these less sophisticated but more highly social experiences where people, you know, get together and they're actually in the same place. Is there any, and not that you have to be the VR apologist, but do you see this... Could you address any critics that might say that this continues to sort of further isolate people from having Real-World experiences? And how does that play towards, you know, what we keep being told about millennial consumers who want experience over anything else? Tell me about that.

Greg: [00:28:59] Yeah. So I'll first kind of tackle the social side of that. You know, from our perspective, haptics ultimately have the ability to bridge distance and bring touch to what would normally be a very isolating experience. So imagine being able to Skype somebody, but instead of, you know, you're going to Skype your parents and you want to be able to give them a hug or hold their hand. That's a thing you could actually do with haptics. And it would feel fairly realistic with HaptX gloves. But, you know, I take the point that there is a fear that immersive environments will further isolate them. I don't think that's a trajectory that necessarily... I guess I say that the criticism has always been there, that, oh, first it's, you know, TV that's going to rot our brains, then it's video games, and now it could be VR.

Phillip: [00:30:01] Sure.

Greg: [00:30:01] And there's no... It kind of depends on on the content makers and their users to discipline themselves and how they use that technology. Going back to the Dungeons and Dragons thing, I still love sitting around a table with my friends and rolling dice. It's not going necessarily stop me, though, from having a Dungeons and Dragons VR experience when I can't necessarily get together with those people because we all have busy lives. So in that way it helps us bridge that distance.

Brian: [00:30:33] Yeah, I think that's a really great point in that, you know, I think back when I was a kid, actually, I feel like game experiences were more isolating. They were more singleplayer. They were more, you know, without interaction. And as I got older and was a teenager and going into college, actually gaming experiences were a lot more connective, a lot more connecting. And so I think the more realistic that we can make them and the more they mimic the real world, I think the closer to sort of a real world experience that we'll be able to have and hopefully that will actually sort of take away the isolation, not enhance it. I totally agree with that. One of the things you mentioned, let's roll this for one second. You mentioned entertainment being the biggest, maybe the first point of entry for haptics, or at least one of the biggest ways that consumers will interact with it. And then you mentioned the Disney Nissan partnership. That really makes me feel like this is gonna be... Haptics are going to be something that CMOs should be paying attention to now, because, you know, when you're building out branded experiences and it's doing storytelling. I mean, to me, this seems like one of the ultimate tools for storytelling. Touch is something that we've been missing from media for so long. This is kind of an ultimate goal, if you will, is to add touch to storytelling in the digital world. How do you foresee CMOs and marketers being able to to build out different brand experiences with this?

Greg: [00:32:25] Yes. So I think right now VR is still a novelty for a lot of consumers. And so they will try these experiences and be wowed by them and suddenly they'll have this really strong like brand impression. And I think that's why you see a lot of these big brands trying to create VR experiences. But eventually, consumers will kind of become savvy to that. They'll have tried enough VR experiences that they'll recognize the good ones from the bad ones. And it's at that point that I think marketers, whether you're doing a pop up or you're doing an event at a conference or you have installation at a mall or your store, are going to want a deeper level of immersion because it's gonna be that competitive edge that's going to give your store your experience more over the experience only lets you have sight and sound or forces you to hold a set of controllers. Imagine going to REI and being able to try on some of the gear and then like ascend Mt. Rainier. Like compared to an experience where you would just put on a headset and not be able to touch the mountain, not be able to feel yourself kind of climbing it. You can see how immersion helps sell the experience.

Brian: [00:33:44] Yeah, that's good. I don't want to give away before you do your first public launch share of your product. Like how much can you feel? Telling a friend of mine about this, and he's like, "So can you feel something slimy?" I'm like, "I have no idea." Can you feel a weight? Can you feel texture? What can you feel?

Greg: [00:34:10] {laughter} OK. So slimy is hard, and really, textures in general are challenging simply because they're really a function of vibration. So when you run your hand over something, that's your hand actually sort of vibrating at various frequencies. And that is something that we're working on getting the actuator technology. Actuator is basically these little, you think of them as almost as little bubbles in the textile that we have that are able to inflate and deflate. And if you inflate and deflate them fast enough, it actually creates a sensation of texture. So slime probably a little ways off. But being able to run your hands through wheat or over a rocky surface or even over just a wall... Yeah, we can do that pretty darn well. And it's really improving by leaps and bounds every month.

Brian: [00:35:08] Wow.

Greg: [00:35:08] As for weight, weight is an interesting challenge because we do have force feedback that lets you feel the resistance of grabbing something. But to feel something that's truly weighty, like if you were to hold out your arm and hold a five pound weight, you need a full body exoskeleton to actually apply that pressure downward on your arm.

Brian: [00:35:29] So is that the ultimate goal? Are you headed out towards full body suits? And what do you see as sort of the ultimate vision for the company?

Greg: [00:35:40] Yeah, definitely. We started with a vision of full body suits and that remains, although in that time we've really found that our expertise is in touch. It's in translating the digital into a tactile experience. There are a lot of other companies that are doing really awesome exoskeleton work out there. So while we've developed an exoskeleton system for our glove, we figure long term training, if you imagine you want to like give people reinforced exoskeletons or you want to give them a true fully immersive experience, you know what it's like to climb that mountain, for example. That's where we would probably partner with a company that's able to do that exoskeleton side of things.

Brian: [00:36:24] Cool.

Phillip: [00:36:24] Yeah, I was gonna actually elaborate on that a bit because if you think about what weight translates to it has a lot to do with balance. Right? So you're not just holding an object in your hands, your back is compensating, your center of gravity... You shift your body's position so that you can recenter your gravity center so that you can hold it in space. It's this interesting full body feeling. And I didn't even think about that until you you said that way. So I guess my next question would be, does haptics add to the illusion of, well what do they call it? Brian? Presence? Does it add to the presence or does take it away with real high end VR? Does it trick you into feeling like it's a more immersive experience?

Greg: [00:37:28] Being that I'm from the HaptX Company, I think so. Although, you know, I'll say there's a lot of progress to be made. And while we've been able to simulate touch better than any other haptics company before, it's going to take time, because if you think about when people who watched black and white television, it was great. This is amazing. Then we got color television and suddenly the black and white television was no longer as engrossing. It was no longer interesting to watch. And then we got higher and higher definition television and our standards for lower resolution moved, and we were no longer willing to watch those lower resolutions. So it's always kind of a moving... The goalpost is always moving. And I think that that's just kind of the nature of this emergent technology is we're going to work to kind of keep up with the standards of immersion in which you can hear and see. But being that this is still such a amazing technology, it's probably going to seem a little jarring at first. But at the same time, it's during to hold a controller while you're trying to climb a mountain or you're trying to learn to do a flight simulator.

Brian: [00:38:51] Yeah, I agree with that. Honestly, that's one of my least favorite things about VR right now is holding the controller. It's really annoying and like movement in general is annoying. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:39:05] I had one last little thing there too, because I'm sort of wrapping my mind around this. I don't have VR at home personally. So it's still very much a kind of a novel experience. But my next question really would be around what I think retailers are starting to just come into the understanding that there are different types of user interfaces that can only be realized in certain mediums. So voice UIs are starting to be understood as having a particular sort of that user experience has techniques and approaches in the way that you organize information, in the way that you engage your users that only work in that medium. So I would have to assume that you are enabling user interfaces in VR. Maybe AR, too. Maybe we'll get there in a second. But you're enabling new experiences and interfaces that couldn't otherwise be realized.

Greg: [00:40:04] Yeah, very much so. And we've talked to companies like Invidia who released this holodeck program that was essentially a program in which you could create 3D models in a realistic way. And you look at existing kind of CAD and CAM programs that right now when we design for those, we're designing on a two dimensional screen using a keyboard and mouse. And how is that a good way to design three dimensional objects?

Phillip: [00:40:33] Sure.

Greg: [00:40:34] So, you know, to the point of what are the use cases for haptics, for this new generation of interfaces? I think that it's being able to use your hands in an immersive environment to interact with three dimensional objects in a way that, again, feels intuitive as compared to using a, you know, a little bunch of clicky keys and a mouse that doesn't actually really correspond realistically to what you're working on or how you're interfacing with that virtual environment.

Brian: [00:41:11] This is a little off subject, so I don't want to spend a lot of time on it, but have you looked at applying to the medical community at all as well?

Greg: [00:41:16] Yeah, we have. We've had a number of universities and medical research companies that have reached out to us because going back to that, especially the training side of things. There are training devices out there like the DaVinci surgical system that do kind of some amount of force feedback and touch feedback, but you're still kind of having to work within the parameters of this device that you're holding. And if you think about if you go into surgery in the future and your doctor has already actually performed that surgery on you using a virtual environment and virtual tools. Wouldn't you feel more comfortable having that doctor do that operation?

Brian: [00:42:00] Yeah, that's amazing.

Phillip: [00:42:01] I know I would. Oh, it's interesting. I have a friend who is an anesthesiologist who says that big data is such a sort of a boon in the healthcare space because there's so many... It's even being brought out in malpractise suits in discovery now that you can actually see how long your doctor actually looked at your CAT scan and like, well, you only looked at it for eight seconds and then you typed X, Y and Z into Google and Web M.D.. Did you really provide this patient with enough care to make that decision about their health care? And it's interesting how it's bringing a lot of this stuff to light and it's bringing to bear really the expertise that are around things like our personal health care. More data is always better. Having more information is always better. Sometimes it's sort of shocking what comes out in the end. So, yes, I would prefer to know, and sort of get the text message alert that my doctor just completed my faux surgery, my little fake run-through, and everything came out fine and I'm good in the end, you know.

Brian: [00:43:04] So let me get into one more thing, and then will probably need to wrap it up here shortly. But what about haptics and augmented reality? I feel like in retail, augmented reality is becoming rapidly, rapidly adopted, at least within certain segments of retail. And so I'm curious to see, like, do you see the application with augmented reality? And if so, what?

Greg: [00:43:34] Yeah. Haptics and AR are compatible, but it's a much bigger technical challenge due to the way that most augmented reality hardware works. So the head mounted displays that augmented reality use... They use a kind of inside out tracking. So what that essentially is, is it's... I'm no engineer, but it essentially takes a lot of snapshots of the environment and then uses some complicated math to tell relative position of the device so that an object can remain kind of locked in the virtual environment. Where that gets tricky as compared to virtual reality, which uses an external tracking system for the most part, is that haptics requires a really high level of precision to be able to deliver a realistic experience. So if you're going to reach out your hand and you're going to poke at a button, you need that button to push back against you at precisely where you see that button. Otherwise, it's going to feel wrong. So you actually have to have like sub-millimeter accuracy to make that work. And AR just isn't quite there with the tracking yet. There are some really great systems, but really until we hear a lot of customers demanding haptics for AR, it's not something we're going to focus on.

Brian: [00:45:01] Good to know. Phillip, do you have any remaining questions? Otherwise, I'm going to ask are typical ending questions.

Phillip: [00:45:09] No real questions left. I'm just shocked that, you know, every day we talk about the future all the time on the show. It's like it's in the stinking name of the show, actually. But it's funny how much the future is actually right now, because in my mind, this is something that just should not exist. It's like it's, you know, what's next? I'm gonna find out that like anti-gravity rooms exist. I'm constantly shocked at the level of technological advancement and how it's being applied in all kinds of interesting ways. And to see something like this that might be available in a consumer market pretty soon and already has broad applications and industry is impressive. And so thanks for sharing it with us, Greg. And I wish you guys the best of luck. It's amazing.

Brian: [00:45:58] Before we go, do you have any advice to our merchant listeners about when they should be investing in this? Is there anything that should be doing in this coming year, maybe even broadly speaking, about VR, since you know quite a bit about VR? What should they avoid? What should they hold off on? And then what about the next five years? What should they be prepared for?

Greg: [00:46:22] Yeah. So, you know, as I said, VR is still a novelty for most consumers. And for a while I think merchants are going to be able to capitalize on that to create experiences that are memorable. But I think that we're also looking at adoption curve for VR that's more like to some extent AR, but more VR. It's more like the cell phones of like the mid 90s rather than the smartphone. I don't think we're going to turn around and five years from now, 90% of Americans are gonna have VR headsets. So I think it always comes down to just like thinking about your business and how you're solving your consumers problems. So if you're in the travel industry, people want to know more about their trip, they want more information. And so giving them a 360 or VR experience might make sense to solve that problem for them. But that's not going to be true of every industry. So, you know, as I mentioned, like I think the branded AR and VR experiences are going to have a real long tail for brands and merchants who invest in delivering utility and value to their customers. And then the longer term outlook of like five years out from now, it's a matter of thinking about how haptics and VR are going to apply to how you train your workforce and how you're designing products, using the new tools of a virtual reality and haptics to build prototypes, CAM and CAD software and 3D engines like Unity and Unreal. So hopefully... That's a lot to chew on. Look at what the big, big companies are doing. If they're not investing in VR and AR, and they're of a similar industry as you, it might not be the right time yet to take that dive in to it.

Brian: [00:48:17] Good advice.

Phillip: [00:48:20] And actually someone for once that actually gives, like, you know, honest advice about when you should be making strategic investments for your company. That's awesome. And I think that that carries weight with our audience. I think if you're interested in VR now, then you're ahead of the curve. Because I think what typically happens with technologies is that you have sort of the adoption curve. You have people that are late to the game and miss an opportunity because they have a curmudgeon sort of attitude about it for longer than the market will bear. And the adoption curve on these things is probably lengthy.

Greg: [00:49:03] Yeah, it is. But it's I mean, it's all coming in. It really is a matter of time, I think. And immersive computing and wearable computing is going to be the next wave of technological adoption. And so it's worth paying attention to even if it doesn't necessarily match your business right now.

Phillip: [00:49:23] Great.

Greg: [00:49:24] Yeah.

Brian: [00:49:25] Cool. That was great. Well, thank you so much, Greg. That was a ton of information for our listeners. I think they're really going to appreciate that. And thanks for talking with us today.

Greg: [00:49:34] Yeah, it was my pleasure. Thanks for having me on. And I hope I didn't overwhelm them with too many acronyms and technical terms.

Brian: [00:49:44] It was great. Where can people find you?

Greg: [00:49:46] I'm on Twitter @GregBilsland. And of course, the company is HaptX.com where you can find all of our social media accounts.

Brian: [00:49:57] Great. Well, thanks for listening to Future Commerce. We want you to give us feedback about today's show, so please leave us some feedback and Disqus comment box below on our website. If you're subscribed on a podcast, we always love the 5-Star review and any other feedback you want to provide us in any channel that you can find us. Twitter. LinkenIn. Text message. Whatever. You can always subscribe to listen to Future Commerce on Apple Podcast, Google Play or listen right now for your Amazon Echo device with the phrase "Alexa play Future Commerce Podcast." With that, retail tech is moving fast.

Phillip: [00:50:32] Future Commerce is moving faster. Thank you.