AxonVR Brings Lifelike Touch to Virtual Reality Using NVIDIA PhysX

by Zvi Greenstein

Six months ago, most people would have had to look up the word “haptics.” Now, it seems to be on everyone’s lips in the world of VR and AR.

So what does haptics really mean? And what does it look like when you bring it to new kinds of virtual experiences?

Virtual Reality You Can Feel

Haptic devices use touch to enhance the immersiveness of VR and AR environments. There are four main types of haptic feedback – tactile, vibration, thermal and force.

AxonVR is bringing lifelike touch to digital experiences through advanced haptic technology. The heart of AxonVR’s platform is HaptX, a haptic textile that lets users feel the physical properties of virtual objects. This includes texture, shape, motion, vibration and temperature.

HaptX can bring the sense of touch to any surface. You can integrate it into wearables like gloves and even full-body suits. These wearables can be paired with the HaptX Skeleton, a lightweight exoskeleton that applies physical forces to the wearer’s body. Together, these technologies bring digital experiences to life with unprecedented realism.


The Physics of Touch

The AxonVR team has been developing the fundamental technologies behind the HaptX Platform for the past four years. One of the primary challenges is solving how to accurately simulate the physics of haptic interaction in real time. At its heart, haptic simulation comes down to physics. But the precision and level of detail required for haptic simulation go beyond the capabilities of a typical physics engine. Objects don’t just have to look right. They have to feel right.

That’s why AxonVR built its haptic engine on top of NVIDIA PhysX. PhysX provides rigid body simulation with the highest level of precision, stability, and efficiency. The GPU acceleration offered by PhysX enables extremely complex real-time haptic simulations. AxonVR relies on NVIDIA PhysX for geometry management, rigid-body dynamics, and collision detection, which frees AxonVR’s software to handle the haptics-specific calculations.

NVIDIA's GPU rigid body demo supports the full software PhysX feature set, such as the actuated joints used for the legs of these walking creatures.
NVIDIA’s GPU rigid body demo supports the full software PhysX feature set, such as the actuated joints used for the legs of these walking creatures.

AxonVR uses information from NVIDIA PhysX about the forces acting on an object during a collision with another object to calculate force feedback effects. More detail is then extracted about the surface geometry of objects touching your skin. These range from gentle curves to micro-textures so small you can’t see them with the naked eye.

Based on this data, AxonVR’s software models how your skin will deform when touching the surface to produce tactile and vibrotactile feedback. Finally, the software models the transfer of heat between the surface and your skin to produce thermal feedback.

AxonVR offers a HaptX SDK which allows developers to easily add haptic properties and effects to their content. The HaptX SDK includes a plug-in for leading game engines that lets content creators add realistic touch sensations to their projects without writing any code. In most cases, developers can use existing 3D assets can with little or no modification.

Welcome to the Holodeck

The combination of AxonVR’s HaptX technology and NVIDIA’s GPU technologies, such as PhysX and VRWorks, will add a new dimension to entertainment experiences at theme parks, arcades, multiplexes, and other location-based entertainment venues. These technologies let players jump into their favorite movies or games and join the action. Players can reach out and touch their favorite characters, and interact with their favorite fantasy universe with lifelike realism.

But this isn’t just for fun. In defense, medicine, and sports, realistic training is crucial. In some cases, lives are on the line. Unfortunately, it’s often impossible, dangerous, or prohibitively expensive to replicate real-world situations in training. NVIDIA’s GPU technologies and AxonVR’s HaptX platform enable a new level of authenticity, safety, and cost effectiveness for training in these industries.

HaptX also promises to speed product design. Today, designers and engineers can’t physically interact with a product until after they build a prototype. With HaptX and NVIDIA’s Quadro visual computing solutions, designers can feel the 3D models they create throughout the product design process. It’s a process that promises to combine the precision of CAD software with the hands-on intimacy of sculpting clay.

Location-based entertainment, simulation and training, and design and manufacturing represent just a few industries that can benefit from realistic touch in VR. They’re the first stops on the way toward a holodeck-like platform: a virtual world so immersive that we can’t distinguish what’s real from what’s virtual.

The holodeck may be science fiction, but thanks to AxonVR’s HaptX technology and NVIDIA’s innovation, we’re getting closer to making it a reality.

For the latest on haptics and holodecks, follow @AxonVR on Twitter.