During a lecture given during the Casual Connect USA by Ehren J. Brav, we had the chance to hear about the wearable haptice devices which he views as the next frontier in virtual and augmented reality. As we have already seen, PCs and consoles as well as the newest VR gear already fully engage our eyes and our ears, but our sense of touch is almost totally ignored. Haptic feedback provides users a whole new level of immersion – it provides a ‘sixth sense’ within the game that we could only dream of having in real life. As the founder of OmniWear Haptics, Ehren shared, “It gives you a situational awareness just so far beyond what you’d otherwise have in the game. And haptics allow you to create entirely new senses as well, like if another player is looking at you – these are sensory inputs we can only dream of having in real life!”
Ehren J. Brav is the founder of OmniWear Haptics, a project that originated out of his creativity and the desire to make something both valuable and interesting.
A Typical Entrepreneur
He describes himself as a typical entrepreneur, starting out by doing all the technical development himself, including software, hardware and firmware. As the project expanded, he started delegating most of these responsibilities to others, but he misses the hands-on aspect of creating new inventions, so he remains as close as possible to the evolving technology. These days, his role has evolved into a more typical CEO: setting the strategic direction, recruiting and motivating the team and making sure financing for the project is in place.
He admits that he doesn’t enjoy all aspects of his job equally, but considers it a blessing to be able to make these decisions himself. What he most enjoys is writing code and wielding a soldering iron, although he has fewer and fewer opportunities to do this.
Ehren has been an entrepreneur previously and has gained valuable insights from these experiences for the decisions he must now make with OmniWear. He emphasizes, “The lessons you learn conceiving of an idea and building it into a commercial reality just can’t be better obtained than by actually doing it.”
Creating a Rich, Immersive Experience
Although there was a time when Ehren thought his lifelong passion for gaming was something of a guilty pleasure, he now realizes doing things for fun is an essential component of life just as much as working or sleeping.
Originally he conceived of haptics as the next stage in human-computer interfaces because the sense of touch has so many advantages in this type of interaction. While he still believes this, his experience in gaming made it inevitable that he would apply haptics to the virtual world as a way of further enriching the experience. Within the next five years, he expects this to become obvious; we already have spent so much time and effort creating beautiful experiences for the eyes and ears, so it is only natural to turn to touch next.
For Ehren, the ultimate reward comes when someone finds something he has created “valuable and really cool.” But so much hard work has to come first!
Describing the vision of OmniWear Haptics in exactly the right way has been a challenge. Ehren admits it is difficult to avoid having their product sound like either science fiction or a toy. They are still evolving and refining the message as they work to present it in a concise and compelling way.
The Right Team
In Ehren’s words, the importance of developing the right team is hard to overstate. Ehren looks for the right mix of experience, enthusiasm, smarts, work ethic and someone he can really enjoy working with. And, he says, “When I find these people, I don’t let them get away.” He believes the most effective way to support developers is to treat them as skilled and valued teammates and he emphasizes the advantages of allowing them to work remotely.
Testing All the Way
According to Ehren, test driven development should ideally be applied not only to software, but also to hardware and game design, and even to their business model.
Their play tests are interesting; not many people have ever experienced wearing a haptic device. He relates that people often say, “Whoa – that’s awesome” in the first ten seconds. The challenge is getting people to want to use it for hours at a time over different games. He emphasizes, “You need to provide a great experience once the initial novelty has worn off. That’s a big challenge in general for virtual reality.”
Ehren is someone who loves technology and especially enjoys going to conferences to play with all the new toys people are making. He is very platform agnostic and avoids becoming too attached to any particular technical way of doing things. He insists, “That leads to rigid thinking. You can never predict the future, so we’ll never be sure which technologies will die and which will thrive. It’s always good to diversify. Technology just changes so fast – it’s a core characteristic of the industry we’re in and you just need to adapt.”
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.