Blacksburg, Virginia and San Luis Obispo, California – A research team including Virginia Tech, University of Florida and HaptX won a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to build a new platform with an ambitious goal: the world’s first system for full-body haptic and force feedback for users in virtual environments.

Funded through the National Science Foundation’s National Robotics Initiative, the four-year project, named ForceBot, will combine HaptX’s microfluidic touch feedback technology with a robotic exoskeleton to simulate virtual objects with an unprecedented level of realism. ForceBot users will feel large-scale passive and active constraints on their movements that closely mimic real-world forces. ForceBot will enable users to feel the shape, weight, and texture of virtual objects, move naturally across varied virtual terrain, and intuitively manipulate objects from afar through a robotic avatar.

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Concept rendering of HaptX’s full-body haptics system.

“ForceBot will advance knowledge at the convergence of virtual reality, robotic control, sensory feedback, ergonomics, and human factor fields,” said Dr. Alexander Leonessa, Principal Investigator, Virginia Tech. “We’re excited to create a system that increases immersion for VR users in applications requiring intensive body motions like sports and industrial skills training, gaming, emergency response, and many others.”

For the last eight years HaptX has focused on developing its unique, patented, microfluidic approach to simulating tactile and force feedback for VR and robotics. In order to deliver highly realistic sensory feedback, the ForceBot project will incorporate HaptX Gloves products and build on years of research into full-body haptic feedback from the HaptX engineering team.

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An early lower-body exoskeleton prototype from HaptX’s lab in San Luis Obispo, CA.

“Since the founding of HaptX, we have envisioned creating a system for realistic full-body haptics,” said Jake Rubin, founder and Chief Executive Officer of HaptX. “We’re thrilled to collaborate with NSF and Virginia Tech to build a platform that simulates realistic full-body interactions and helps more fully realize our company’s original vision.”

The ForceBot platform aims to improve the accuracy of full-body human-computer interface design. By building on science’s understanding of human-robot interactions, the team anticipates they can improve the safety and efficacy of robots, cobots, and exoskeletons. According to the NSF, the project reflects the organization’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.