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With VR coming up full force, it is logical to see more immersive technologies for gaming emerging as well. I met OmniWear Haptics CEO Ehren Brav a few days ago, for a demo og the Arc prototype, a device that is now available for pre-order on Kickstarter.

Compatible at launch (when the device will ship) with two games, Counter-Strike and League of Legends, the Arc is worn around the neck and provides haptic feedback via eight actuators, so the gamers is made aware of her/his surroundings via touch alerts. When I briefly tested the demo with Counter-Strike, I could “feel” my enemies coming from behind or from the side by feeling the gentle vibrations on my neck, on the related position.

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How it works?

The system is clever as OmniWear Haptics avoids to integrate with the video game source code to function: using the camera of a regular smartphone and the companion application, the Arc system monitors the aerial map with the enemies’ positions displayed at the corner of the Counter-Strike game screen, and sends haptics alerts to the connected necklace.

This is only one specific example of the Arc capabilities, as the device controlled via Bluetooth by the OmniWear mobile app, uses machine vision to interpret the user interface of the game on the screen and translate this information into tactile signals perceived by the player.

The Arc sends modular intensity alerts to help gamers be aware of their surroundings, and what is going on in the game, outside of the current frame, specifically for multi-player’s games. The technology could be used in military simulations as well, to train teams to better coordinate their efforts during combat situations.

According to the company, the Arc benefits the gaming experience by delivering faster reaction time, less distraction, deeper immersion and better teamwork.
When asked about the latency, CEO Ehren Brav told me that they did not measure it precisely, however the users who tested the prototype did not complain about the latency while gaming. During the

On the long run, OmniWear’s vision, as stated by Erhen Brav, is to “make the sense of touch a primary channel for communicating information”, so the Arc technology can be applied to other fields such as industrial safety, sports and vehicle operation.

Pricing and availability – Kickstarter

Available for pre-order for $150 on Kickstarter <hyperlink to KS page> and shipping in the fall of 2017, the Arc with its iOS and Android apps support Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends. Developers will also be able to add support for their games or applications using the Arc SDK.
Please note, we have tried a prototype for a brief time, so we cannot vouch neither for the final product quality nor can guarantee its final availability, Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform not an e-commerce company.

Q&A with Ehren Brav, CEO, OmniWear Haptics

Tell us more about your background and why you started OmniWear Haptics?

I actually started my career as an attorney. Back when I was practicing law, some of my favorite deals were representing tech companies acquiring start-ups. That was really my first exposure to the entrepreneurial cycle – founders younger than me were already having their companies acquired, and I quickly realized that *that* is what I wanted to do. When I started my first company, I immediately set out to find a technical co-founder since at the time I had zero confidence in my skills with writing code. This took longer than I had hoped, I grew impatient, and I ended up writing our software on my own. It was the ultimate poor man’s university – a declining savings account provides terrific motivation to learn! I also learned many of the lessons first-time entrepreneurs are familiar with: the difficulty predicting customer behavior, how critical it is to conserve costs, and of course the most critical challenge of all: knowing when to pivot and when to persevere! In 2012 I was fortunate enough to be hired by the Invention Science Fund, which was just a perfect fit.

I’ve also been a lifelong gamer. As long as I can remember I’ve been playing and modding PC games. So there was this moment back in 2014 when we were just sitting around a conference table thinking about what you could do with a haptic version of spidey sense and it just dawned on us that games were the perfect application. You can give someone this sense in the virtual environment that they don’t actually have in real life – how cool would that be! It’s the next frontier of virtual reality!

How did you come up with the idea of creating a wearable device that provides haptic feedback for gamers?

At ISF we were approached by the owner of a professional football team to research new ways of preventing concussions. We brainstormed a number of ideas, but the one that stuck was the notion of giving players a sixth sense awareness that they were about to be hit. It sounded crazy at first, but the more we thought about it, the more we fell in love with the idea. We did some research and decided it was technically feasible. While professional sports is definitely a field where haptics can have a big impact (no pun intended), the gaming market was more exciting to us for a number of reasons: the game gives you all the information you need about where things are, so you don’t need to actually detect this in the real world using sensors, and gamers are tech-friendly and always looking for a new way to engage. And yes, there are just so many of them – gaming has become such a huge market. After successful testing the concept using open source video games like Xonotic and Assault Cube, and realizing how well it worked, we decided to make a product out of it. That’s when OmniWear Haptics as a company was born.

Did you file a patent?

Yes, we’ve filed patents on all aspects of the technology, including the notion of using a computer to translate visual information into tactile information.

Besides gaming, could you tell us which industries could benefit from the technology developed for Arc in the near future? (please provide specific examples)

A number of areas. Really, anywhere where your eyes and ears are already fully engaged in what you’re doing – that’s where a tactile user interface can just cut through all the noise, without being distracting. We’ve looked at applications in industrial safety, where it might be noisy or where you could be vision limited and don’t want to walk into a forklift; we’ve looked at military and law enforcement applications, so each member of a squad can *feel* where his teammates are so as not to sweep any of them with a weapon; and of course we’ve looked at a blind-spot monitoring system for bicyclists and motorcyclists, since when riding it’s just so critical to keep your eyes on the road

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