Tactical Haptics, a company pioneering a novel form of haptic feedback which can create compelling sensations that go far beyond rumble, announced today it has raised $2.2 million to create a development kit of a haptic VR controller as a stepping stone to an eventual consumer product.

Tactical Haptics is one of the OGs of the of the new VR landscape. The company was among just five or so companies exhibiting anything related to VR back at GDC 2013 (the first year Oculus attended the show). At the time they were showing their ‘Reactive Grip’ haptic technology attached to a hacked up Razer Hydra (a popular VR motion controller in those early days, long before the likes of Vive controllers and Oculus Touch). This (old) video, explains how it works:

Reactive Grip is a novel method of haptic feedback which uses sliding segments in the handle of a controller to create ‘shear’ forces in your hand which mimic an object moving against your palm, like the handle of a gun when it shoots, or the handle of a sword when it comes in contact with an enemy. The effect is unique and impressively convincing for certain interactions, and in many cases feels more authentic than mere rumble.

Tactical Haptics tried to jumpstart their path to creating a Reactive Grip developer kit in an unsuccessful 2013 Kickstarter that raised nearly $90,000, but was unfortunately well short of its $175,000 goal. But that didn’t mean defeat for the company, which has been refining its tech ever since; we’ve seen multiple prototype iterations since that time, including demonstrations tapping into the tracking of the Vive’s controllers and Oculus Touch.

Hands-on: Tactical Haptics' Vive Demo is Further Proof That VR Needs More Than Rumble

Now the company has announced that they’ve raised $2.2 million to create a development kit of a Reactive Grip VR controller. $749,000 of the funds come from a National Science Foundation grant, while the other $1.47 million comes as venture captial in a round led by SV Tech Ventures and the Youku Global Media Fund, with participation by SIG Asia Investment Fund, Sand Hill Angels, and the Stanford-StartX Fund. The company says the funds will be used to “[create] a developer kit, including mini-games, for VR game developers so they can integrate the company’s advanced haptic controller with their VR game content.”

The company plans for the development kit to have cross-platform support between the Rift and Vive, and include its own tracking to function as a replacement for the official VR controllers on those platforms.

Exactly what form that tracking will take remains unclear, especially given the competing tracking technologies employed by the Rift and Vive. When we reached out to Tactical Haptics CEO, Will Provancher, for comment he shared the following:

…our plan for tracking won’t be to mount an entire Vive or Touch controller on our haptic controller. So we plan to have a more integrated solution than what we currently do (which is mount a Vive or Touch controller on our controller).

I can say that we are attending the SteamVR tracking partner program training, which will create several options for us to implement tracking.

However, the exact implementation of what we do with respect to motion tracking integration will depend on a lot of factors so it’s hard to say more than this at this point.

While Oculus has said previously that they planned to open their tracking API up to third parties, Valve is the only one of the two to have done that so far, meaning its more likely that we’d see a development kit that’s compatible with SteamVR Tracking sooner than Rift’s ‘Constellation’ tracking.

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Whatever form it comes in, we look forward to haptic tech in VR that goes beyond common rumble, and hope that Tactical Haptics’ approach is just the first of many third-party VR controller choices for users.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • wheeler

    Even though I’ve never had a chance to try this it’s always sounded like a really cool idea. However I’m guessing that developers would need to specifically program their game for the controller’s features and thus I’m skeptical of its success. I would think that instead of a standalone product it would be a better idea to try and get their tech integrated into the next controller spec.

    • Wino

      Good chance their company will be bought by facebook or HTC at 1 point.

  • Nein

    One issue with this is that it funnels the potential of such a control. It will limit its use to games or experiences where the only controller types are ‘wand-like’ objects. Which is the opposite of what the Touch controllers are aiming for.

    • DougP

      Re: ” where the only controller types are ‘wand-like’ objects.”
      I don’t think this is accurate.
      I don’t even know what you mean by “wand like” – do you own a Vive/Rift?

      Who cares what’s above/below the *hand* inside VR. What matters is just what your hand feels (/placement).
      The Vive & Rift have an almost identical hand position.
      This isn’t “Harry Potter” using a *wand* from finger tips…. this is the hand resting on a controller which feels very much like holding a gun handle & trigger position.
      THIS is exactly what these controllers are emulating.
      Your palm against the *back* & your fingers wrapped around – where what would make the most sense is a trigger near the top where the index finger goes (same as on Vive & Rift controllers).

      People seem very misinformed about how the controllers differ/are similar.
      Who cares whether the circular piece (for tracking rotation & position) wraps around your hand (Rift) or sits at the top (Vive) – this is NOT part of the controller you *use* or even touch.

  • I hope the tech morphs into a super-glove that can semi-resist movement (e.g. slapping a desk, holding a cup) and give variable pressure feedback when something is pressed or touched although I think that tech would eventually move to robotics, hydraulics etc. Exciting that they are pushing this area anyway.

  • Joel Cullum

    This is so smart

  • Albert Hartman

    So happy for them. They’ve been at it for a long time.