We sat down with Immersion’s VP of User Experience to talk about Immersion and how the company has evolved over the last 25 years.
Can you take us through Immersion’s history? How did it get started?
Immersion was founded nearly 25 years ago out of a robotics lab at Stanford University. The company’s founding mission was the idea that we can take compelling (but expensive) haptic experiences developed in the lab and make them accessible to the mass market.
And how do you bring haptics to the masses, so to speak?
For the first 10 years or so after we got started, we were trying to answer that exact question: how do we make advanced, high-quality haptic technology accessible at scale and for a reasonable price. Immersion’s unique approach was (and still is) to translate the high-quality experiences we developed by working with OEM partners that can create products at mass market scale (we don’t produce any of the final products in-house). We do this by investing heavily in early stage R&D activities where we try to find new haptic embodiments, new material, new technologies, new ways to generate and use haptics to drive a better user experience. Essentially, our product is our knowledge, innovation and know-how captured in reference designs, training materials and intellectual property.
Why is innovation and R&D important?
Oftentimes when working on product development, we are looking 3-5 years down the road. We don’t typically focus on how to incorporate touch into an established technology market. We look for opportunities to create new markets. Across our teams in San Jose and Montreal, we have more than 45 scientists and engineers dedicated to research, innovation and developing new products and capabilities. In fact, currently the most prolific inventor of haptics of all time is Danny Grant, Immersion’s Program Director of Innovative Research!
What do you believe is one of the most impactful products or tools Immersion has developed in your time at the company?
In my opinion, one of the most impressive advancements we’ve made is our innovation of haptic video. Immersion self-generated this industry through our innovation process and then diligently worked in the trenches to establish the market focused initially on advertising. We created a solution for this space, and then built it up to functional business. Haptic video was a discovery that happened some years ago and was refined to a business opportunity through our established experience and technology innovation processes. Since then, we’ve worked with Showtime, AdColony and brands like Stoli, Lexus and Universal Pictures on some incredible campaigns. Other companies are now considering haptic standards for video, which really legitimizes this technology.
What do you think are the biggest growth opportunities or growth markets for Immersion?
I am really excited about VR, gaming and AR. We are seeing people eager to adopt haptic technology in VR experiences, and we are working to provide developers with the inspiration, technology and the tools they need to implement high quality tactile experiences on the latest generation of hardware. Immersion continues to innovate new embodiments and design frameworks for haptic feedback in this emerging market.
I also believe haptics will play a large role in augmented reality. Of course, we don’t yet know what interaction paradigms will exist with AR. Will it remove the keyboard and mouse? And if so, what will replace those? A lot of questions still need to be answered, but we know that haptics and touch will play a role in making AR tech productive, intuitive and user friendly. We look forward to exploring this topic in the coming months and years.
What has kept you at Immersion for so long? Seventeen years!
Immersion is a very unique company that is focused on haptic innovation. There is no shortage of hard problems to solve when it comes to delivering compelling tactile experiences through technology to humans. From automotive to AR to medical, if there is human computer interaction then there is a role for touch and tactile feedback to enhance or enable the experience. Our challenge at Immersion is figuring out what that role is and how we can enable the market to deliver these new kinds of human-machine interactions. We’ve made great progress in many markets already but we are fully committed to continuous innovation, taking the learnings and new technology from our labs to broader markets and audiences around the globe.