By Eric Vezzoli, CEO Interhaptics.
I’m opinionated and loud about Haptics. I seek to challenge my views to improve my understanding of the market and technology. If you agree with me, let me know. If you don’t, tell me why I’m wrong and what does not work.
I’m also host of the Haptics Club and board member of Haptics Industry Forum. This post does not necessarily reflect the view of these organisations.
A major upside for the haptics market is locked in the impact of haptics on usages, today unknown. To unlock that value, it is necessary to increase the rate of haptics innovation, implement a sustainable IP licensing landscape, and guarantee content interoperability. The solution is the Open Haptics Ecosystem with a value chain based on standards and public best practices.
Haptics is hard, everyone says that.
No, it is not.
The current haptics market makes haptics hard.
Haptics at this stage is like audio 40 years ago, an unknown field of opportunities.
Stay with me for this write-up inspired by the discussion made at the 2021 Smart haptics conference.
1. Haptics products innovation cycles
Building haptics products is long and expensive. It is mind-blowing how much time and investment is required today to execute a product innovation cycle in haptics. Here are some examples:
- The Play Station 5 dual sense haptics implementation was designed between 10 to 15 years ago. I tested the same controller in SVVR in 2017 at the Immersion corporation booth.
- D-Box took 20 years to grow its haptics cinema business based on its haptics actuation to something meaningful.
- Haptx gloves have been in development since 2013, they are at the stage of development kit today.
- Meta haptics efforts started in 2015, it is unclear when they will bring a haptics product on the market.
Besides specific hardware technological challenges, every haptics OEM or technology company must re-implement the technology stack for every new product from design guidelines down to actuator technology. Most of these investments are wasted and cannot be monetised on the final customer who will be licensing the technology or purchasing the actuators.
That is a huge amount of bottom-line cost with little top-line value.
I suspect that the survival rate of Haptics startups is far worse compared to other business ventures. This fact is known in the Venture Capital market leading to small and challenging capital access for haptics companies, small exit values, and a slow growth rate.
2. Shared Best Practices
Haptics professionals don’t share what works and what does not. It is frankly not even their fault. There was no safe space to do so.
Every time a haptics startup or project is halted, that information generated during its active years is lost, and other ventures will probably make the same mistakes slowing the development cycle.
I was at smart haptics last week, one thing hit me during the automotive panel.
The arguments touched during the conversation were the same I was having 5 years ago when I was CTO of Hap2u with the German automotive folks and HMI design teams.
Why did the discussion not evolve in 5 years? I mean, 5 years ago Tesla was going bankrupt, and BMW CEO was saying that there was no market demand for electric vehicles. It is prehistory in the automotive world.
The panelists were even frustrated that they could only chat with each other and share ideas once a year at smart haptics.
It does not have to be like that, there are answers to this problem!
The Haptics Industry Forum (HIF) exists for that. Hats down to Chris Ullrich from Immersion corporation to recognise the need for a space where industry players can exchange thoughts covered by a clear legal framework.
And it works! the XR Haptics working group I chair with Chris made incredible strides in only 6 months.
The amount of common information in haptics that is not trade secret but is undocumented is staggering.
We are publishing a book with that information for XR. No trade secrets shared, just a large amount of info not available to non-specialist implementers who require them to implement good Haptics in XR. Money goes to HIF, not to the authors in case you wonder.
Do you want it? Drop your email here, publication in Q1 next year.
Here is an unpopular opinion about Haptics:
The basic blocks to create great haptics experiences and devices are well known and segmented in many other fields like product design, UX, marketing, academia, and acoustic. What is missing is the link between these competencies. See section 8 for a case study.
I was lucky enough to have worked with the best haptics scientist in the world and discuss with haptics industry leaders in the last years. There is little knowledge of what happens on the other side of the pond.
There are arguably 2 companies who bridged the gap thanks to their brilliant research-product teams. Apple and Sony have brilliant scientists talking and working with open-minded product and designer teams. In both cases they created a winning haptics implementation in their platform. The problem with this approach is that it can’t apply to the global haptics market. Check this article written by Chris Ullrich on the approach of both companies.
3. User-centric VS bottom-up approach
The haptics market is mainly made by hardware technology manufacturers and providers today. They approach the integration problem into existing systems with a bottom-up approach, which means they build a vertical technology stack based on their actuation system. It is not their fault, there was no practicable alternative for a technology company.
This approach brings to the fragmentation shown in the next figure
Adding on this, no haptics technology can solve the haptics perceptual problem, which means perfectly simulating reality.
If you want to dive deeper, here is a resource where I go more in-depth from a few years ago.
This leads to fragmented and incomplete solutions in the eyes of the end-users. It does not help that in the past a boosting marketing language was used to describe haptics as the panacea of every problem. David Parisi talks in-depth about that during this episode of the haptics club.
I recurrently hear from non-haptics experts the question, when can we feel the texture of cloths on my telephone screen? The answer is probably never.
The end-user and customer pain should be the focus of haptics technology companies when thinking about system integration. If your technology alone is incapable of meeting the final user expectations, create an offer that does it.
Example for end-user focus: Sony is using 2 classes of haptics actuators in their dual sense controller. 2 actuators for stereo wide band vibrotactile feedback, 2 actuators for micro kinaesthetic / contact spatial feedback on the fingertip addressing 2 separate usages.
Example for customer focus: IP haptics licensing is notoriously complex in haptics. Titan Haptics negotiated an IP licensing deal with Immersion to offer their customers a full package with a unique point of sales.
4. Market Segmentation
Peter Cooney from SAR insight proposed market research that showed the perspective growth and market segmentation for Haptics. The total market value was actuators. The trends indicate the increase of unique spending for each actuator, with no projection for software and content.
Compare with and Audio or Video market segmentation, the largest portion is content and software.
What if there is a potential upside of 10x of the haptics market waiting to be unlocked through usages? See section 8
I go in-depth in this article on why standards are necessary to grow a vibrant content creation community.
In short, with standards, you can guarantee content interoperability and create a value proposition based on software and content.
If you are a haptics technology company, your customer will appreciate that your offer is inserted into an ecosystem reducing the risk of adopting your technology.
The current standardisations efforts are shown in these two pictures from this article:
When should your product team care about this?
The answer is now! Here is the timeline for standard publication:
All these standards are vetted and cross-validated by market participants and leading academics guaranteeing that they meet the most stringent performances standards.
Interhaptics contributes to the OpenXR and USB-Universal Haptics Protocol standards on the host side, and we are the main MPEG encoding standardisation authors. Reach out if you want to prepare the implementation in your products.
Do you want to participate in the standard definition? Reach out to me or join HIF.
6. Incentive’s alignments
No business transaction happens if there is no unlocked value on both sides.
I had several discussions with haptics technology manufacturers about encoding standards at smart haptics. The sentiments are unanimous, most of the advanced haptics technologies hitting the market face themselves with the content creation and deployment problem.
Why at Interhaptics we are willing to help with the standard implementation?
Because we estimate that the value to be unlocked on the top end of the value chain trough usages is massive. That is an Interhaptics incentive.
The incentive for actuator manufacturers and platform implementers is the reduction of the bottom-line expenses for haptics innovation and future content compatibility driving the need for better haptics.
This should shorten the innovation cycle described in section 1
7. The elephant in the room: IP licensing
It is well-known that the IP licensing history of the haptics market is murky. That changes with standards, the IP policy is clear and defined for each standard publisher avoiding potential IP licensing issues which plagued the market in the past. Audio and video markets have fewer issues due to reliance on standards.
To be clear, open haptics ecosystem doesn’t mean open source. It allows industry players to specialise and deliver value on the market by establishing collaboration and asset licensing along the software value chain similarly as it is happening in the haptics components business today.
It could however allow interested players to release open-source software modules competing with commercial ones to increase the value offering for the final users. This is healthy competition benefitting the market!
The standards IP licensing model will be dependent on the SDOs IP policy.
One simple example:
OpenXR standardises the API layer. The software to drive the APIs is not standardised and every actor is responsible to own or license the IP necessary to leverage Open XR APIs.
Do you have trouble navigating this world? Join HIF. We will help you out.
8. Total Value Locked
Here things get interesting. What value can haptics unlock in different usages by leveraging standards and public best practices?
Here is a case study.
Case Study: Haptics increases user engagement during e-commerce shopping on mobile
Usage Scenario: User hold their phones in their hands while online shopping almost 100 % of the time.
Background: User experience research shows the value of multimodal reinforcement of an HMI action.
The question: what is the impact of well-designed haptics on the mobile-driven shopping experience?
Market suggestions: Amazon is using haptics in their app when converting from the search list to the checkout.
Method: Collaboration with dr.Margot Racat from IDRAC to run the numbers on the hypothesis. Read here about that at this link.
Preliminary Results: Well-designed haptics can unlock a double-digit increase in user engagement and total purchase size while shopping online.
Wait a moment.
Sink that in, this is e-commerce.
One of the largest markets in the world.
Similar technology adoption use case: AR changed completely the retailing for house furniture. It brought a double-digit increase in customer conversion during online shopping. Every major furniture retailer uses AR in their online marketplaces today.
Opportunity: every eCommerce platform will integrate haptics to leverage double-digit conversion rates.
Why is this not happening? See Section 2 and Section 5.
Some markets are starting to recognise the value of haptics. Haptics is taking a foothold in automotive, gaming, and somehow in medical training.
Some markets where haptics should bring value through usages are here listed:
- Ecommerce, see the previous use case.
- Advertisement, I know the research is shelved somewhere.
- Video content streaming, see D-Box.
- XR, upcoming book.
Any other idea? Reach out. I’ll update this post.
9. Unlock the value: Open Haptics Ecosystem
How to unlock value for the value chain?
We need what I call the Open Haptics Ecosystem.
The open haptics ecosystem is a multilayer value chain with public and open interfaces and API to reduce innovation cycles and shared best practices.
Let’s put the previous problems on a list and think about them in this framework:
Shorter device and actuators innovation cycles mean less bottom line, more top line. Shorter ROI for the R&D investments.
Massive growth opportunity driven by haptics usages pushing for greater unique spending on actuator/s.
Standards will be published in less than one year; the opportunity will not wait. Talk with your product team now.
Companies offering a value proposition not aligned with a value chain like audio and video will experience problems addressing the needs of the market in the future.
Example: nonprogrammable waveforms libraries on the device driver.
There are a lot of challenges on the horizon. Here is a couple of them.
Preservation of design intent across different actuator categories: the mechanical response profile of an ERM is vastly different compared to a VCA, how can we guarantee that the intention of the designer is transmitted? Interhaptics has resources on that, other companies have too. Camille will not agree with it anyway, even after a bottle of Italian wine in smart haptics. Can’t win them all.
Unbiased haptics impact. We need smart folks from academia running the numbers on usages and proposing frameworks. The risk is market overpromising as David Parisi mentions. Reach out to me or HIF
How can I participate in standards and best practices definitions and implement standards in my product?
Make your product MPEG compliant: Interhaptics does this, we are the main author of the upcoming MPEG standards. Reach out.
Define Open XR and USB — UHP or contribute to best practices for the haptics market: Join HIF. The IPR policy is well made, and the yearly fee is not expensive, we are aiming to cover costs. We even furnish a slide deck to talk to your CFO
A major upside for the haptics market is locked in the impact of haptics on usages, today unknown. To unlock that value, it is necessary to increase the rate of haptics innovation, a sustainable IP licensing landscape, and guarantee content interoperability. The solution is the open haptics ecosystem with a value chain based on standards and public best practices.
Side Note: Do you want to tell your story? Reach out to the Haptics Club on Twitter, we give the mike to interesting haptics folks.
Haptics Industry Forum: www.hapticsif.org
Haptics Club: https://twitter.com/HapticsClub