AxonVR is Making a Haptic Exoskeleton Suit to Bring Your Body and Mind into VR


AxonVR, a Seattle-based startup fresh out of a 4 year stint in stealth mode, recently revealed a piece of hardware that seems to have been lifted directly from science fiction. Promising a full-body haptic suit and an exoskeleton walking platform, AxonVR is the first company to tease an all-in-one solution that aims to deliver simulated pressure, hot and cold sensations, and the ability walk freely through the virtual world. But is it feasible? Sure, but maybe not as soon as you think.

AxonVR proudly claims that their haptic/locomotion platform will let you “scale the limestone pyramids of Giza. Make snow angels on the ice planet Hoth. Tee off like a green jacket master,” but you can leave your credit cards safely in your wallets for now, because while the renders show a finely-stitched haptic suit and sleek exoskeleton platform, AxonVR is still very much in the ‘bare wires and actuators’ R&D phase.

Dubbed ‘AxonSuit’, the company aims to deliver a full-body haptic suit using a sort of smart textile that marries pneumatic actuators and a reactive thermal layer. And if that was their only game, they’d really have their work cut out for them—as the prospect of fashioning an entire suit on the technology shown in the video and developing a robust exoskeleton platform would be considered nothing short of revolutionary for the VR industry.

Early haptic prototypes seen in the teaser are still bulky and inflexible, with the tactile layer requiring compressed air to simulate touch delivered through individual plastic tubes—and the separate thermal layer, which functions like a water-cooling rig for your computer by pumping heated and cooled water to a conductive, flexible heat sink, being equally as unwieldy. These are however prototypes to display the core technology, but shrinking and scaling it to cover the entire surface area of full-body suit—including a jacket, pants, gloves and boots while remaining flexible, light and breathable—will be a clear triumph in haptic technology.

The second part of the Axon platform is a piece of kit called the ‘AxonStation’, an exoskeleton designed to give force feedback and simulate free locomotion. We haven’t had a chance to try out a prototype yet, but a clear concern for any locomotion device such as an omnidirectional treadmill (or any consumer fitness machine for that matter), is the device’s inherent robustness. More moving parts usually means more points of failure, and when you’re relying on an actuator to stop your foot while you’re supposed to be climbing the millionth stair, or making a parkour jump to the next platform, you need something that will support your weight time and time again, and with little to no chance of breaking.

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AxonVR’s digital marketing manager Andrew Mitrak disclosed on Reddit that the whole system is both “very cool and very expensive,” and jokingly admitted that if anyone “want[s] to send us $4999, our address is available on our website.” Mitrak later circled back to make it very clear that this statement was made purely in jest and that $4999 was in no way indicative of final retail pricing.

The startup isn’t asking for money though, at least not from you via any form of crowdsourcing campaign. According to Geekwire, AxonVR raised $1.2 million “from friends and family, and it is currently oversubscribed in an ongoing $3 million seed round.” The company has since brought on board ex-Microsoft executives Mark Kroese and Joe Michaels to fill the roles of President and Chief Revenue Officer respectively.

While any good skeptic will tell you that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, consumers (us included) badly want to believe that the company’s core technologies are scalable enough to fit an entire suit—and that evidence has yet to arrive.

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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 3,500 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • Haczar Criollo

    There are many companies working on the haptic VR experience. It might be time for some detailed comparison/updates. It would be interesting to see benefits/drawbacks of different hardware methods: exo (dexmo, axonvr) electrical impulse (tesla suit, project impacto), or others like tactical haptics, strikerVR. Very exciting tech!!!

    • Anna K

      yep , looking forward to VR make this comparison

  • This seems like the only really satisfying feedback system I’ve seen so far. Looks awesome!

  • This has been the dream since VR was first dreamed-OF when I was a baby, it’s not remotely a new idea by any stretch. I have some elementary school drawings of the same thing. There are some very good technically reasons why this has never been done successfully before. It requires POWER and SPEED. I’m not seeing any actuators that appear fast enough or powerful enough to move a human being around. I’ve seen some industrial bots that might be capable of keeping up with a human being, even a large one like myself, but they are built substantially more robust, use as much technology and mechanics as a car, and cost more then a beach house. I’m certain this could be done, maybe even at a 1/10th of what these industrial machines cost now, but you’re still not going to see one for less then $20,000 and it might take two heavy power outlets to use.

    • Gus Bisbal

      Thank you walter for this comment. These fools are goofing around trying to con people into thinking this is possible just by doing the right “Apple-esk” design and using your everyday stuff on the market. CAN SOMEONE PLEASE hand them a physics text book. Or at least a calculator so that can do some economics. I have a small Haptic feed back fabrication company and I have professional automation engineers working with me and what Walter is talking about is 100% on the money. Its not just tackling a problem no one else has thought of solving. Plenty of people have thought of solving it, they can’t. This is a DARPA Hard problem. The technology to make it work the way they want, off of normal house hold power, while fitting in a small room and not costing $500k is just not out there. It doesn’t exist. This is as fundamentally hard as the 4k screen the size of the VR head set. They have to be created first then applied to the problem. Three years in and Oculus with Facebook backing hasn’t even made a dent into that solution. This will go the same way.

      • Joe

        I do agree with most of this, but it’s worth mentioning that there are VR headset sized 4k screens available. The Sony Z5 Premium was released at the end of last year with a 4k 5.5″ screen. This limiting factor here is not display tech, its that it would push the required graphics hardware well above what it’s reasonable to expect a consumer to own.

        • Anonymous_user

          wow !
          this guy has thought hardly about it !
          plus paintings looks like nazi’s tech :P LoL

        • Josh Kariakin

          it would start out in arcades/training centers and as people became more and more familiar with the capabilities of these things – for telepresence tourism or training say – inhabiting various drones and robots, devices around the world, in the ocean, etc depending on what you can afford. Graphics can be overlayed as needed, testing and feasibility studies for software and simulating hardware (the affordable consumer-grade stuff such as lighter cheaper exoskeletons) could be done on this system. My point is to develop a system that is way beyond the reach of the average consumer to see what ideas and vision such a system opens up. Of course someone has to pony up the millions, not expecting a big return right away.

      • In my opinion the exoskeleton part of this project is actually easier than what the mobile exoskeleton developers have been trying to overcome in terms of technical challenges (mainly increasing power density), because here the exoskeleton is suspended and so keeping the mass low is not as critical (though it is still important) and being plugged in the power supply will be enough. Actuating individual exoskeleton leg joints doesn’t require much more than 200-300 W peak. The real challenge is high fidelity force control with good backdrivability, and keeping the cost down (mobile exoskeletons go for $70k to $150k). When positioning accuracy doesn’t matter, and when force control bandwidth required is below 10 Hz (high forces), Series Elastic Actuator technology is the optimal actuation technology for such a project. The cost can be as low as $1k per DOF – such an actuator product is what my company is currently developing.

        • Josh Kariakin

          100% agree – this seems like a pathway to developing exoskeleton tech where you don’t have to worry about the power density and can focus instead on the input/output capabilities. The same thing applies to the VR helmet, no need to support it via the head, it can be attached and weigh more, have a wider field of view, etc. I had this dream as a kid and even then was imagining huge helmets with projection and other older tech that would provide high fidelity visuals.

      • Josh Kariakin

        agree there with the possible con based on “Apple-esk” feel to the presentation. But they do have to get funding somehow, and perhaps even if they only get slightly further along they will learn something or become more able to help in a larger endeavor – perhaps learning what NOT to do, while at least sharing the dream with more people looking to get an education and do the heavy lifting – the DARPA part. There is definately a need for more detailed and precise visions of what is possible – the sci fi movies / literature of today treats VR, AR, telepresence, exoskeletons and the like very cartoonishly, as distinct things, and without even exploring the full potential of even a 50% version of this contraption.

    • Jack H

      Would the motor force and speed be lessened if the force feedback used braking-style resistance with much weaker motors for the actual push back, since in a game environment the player may be careless and powerful push back could case injuries?

      Edit: I should clarify that I mean an active ratchet locking mechanism instead of for instance pad brakes.

    • Josh Kariakin

      same here – a device like this that is attached to a big armature to simulate the forces off gravity / acceleration from any angle was an idea I had, though obviously it would lead to dizziness without some sort of mitigating inner-ear device :)

  • Kai2591

    Wow, that looks like the Animus in Assassin’s Creed movie version.

    That’s almost the holy grail of VR experience. Holy grail being like those in The Matrix though I prefer not to have wires sticking into my head (.hack or SAO’s wireless systems are best, probably) – not that I know if such a tech is even possible. Ghost in the Shell uses cyberbrains though but that’s even crazier requiring cyberizing yo brains. Scary.

  • bladestorm91

    YES, Finally, this is the right direction for VR input and movement, none of that treadmill nonsense. This tech must be further developed and enter mainstream.

  • Mos Craciun

    One of the biggest problems I see with this design is lateral body movement, i don’t think it will feel natural the way it’s presented in the current design.

  • Leela Keshavan

    This is fantastic

  • klerk

    It is new? Someone has had most or all of these ideas, and more, earlier:

    Exoskeleton, motion simulator, tactile and thermal suit, +remote control of humanoid robots

  • Aaron Benjamin

    ok so here’s the problem. They bailed on this project, renamed their company to Haptx and deleted all posts about axon vr suit from their site. Someone else needs to pick up the mantle now….

    • AxonVR

      Hey Aaron, sorry to hear about your frustration. The rebrand wasn’t about bailing at all. We still have a longer vision for full body haptics. You can read about it at bear the bottom of the page. We’re focused on refining the touch experience in VR for now.

      • Josh Kariakin

        I am interested in the reasoning and what you would have done with more funding, and who is carrying the vision forward. I’m sure DARPA and other agencies are actively pursuing things like this, not necessarily information the average person has access to at this point..

  • Josh Kariakin

    and where is this company now? Probably bit off way too much at one time but I believe strongly in the integrative approach – when enough smaller techs are proven and provided someone will invest in making them all work smoothly together – first as an experimental / research platform then perhaps in high-end arcades and training centers, with trickle down to the households or multi-family households. We are talking here about something that is the next best thing to visiting a remote site, (either a virtual world or a real world tele-presence ) with all the advantages that confers. So sharing the expense and ownership of a device like doesn’t seem far fetched.