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VR System Lets Users “Touch” One Another in the Metaverse

Image courtesy of Emerge emergehome.gif
The Emerge Home system comprises the Emerge Wave-1 device, the Emerge Home Quest 2 VR app, and the Emerge Home mobile app.
Emerge has developed a virtual reality/hardware system that generates ultrasound waves to enable users to "feel" a sense of touch in the metaverse.

While the metaverse has gotten people excited, there is still a human desire to reach and touch others in natural human interaction. A young social interaction company called Emerge is trying to link the disparate worlds of the metaverse and normal human interaction, through products that give users a sense of touch in the virtual reality sphere.

Emerge, based in Marina del Ray, CA, is an investor-backed company whose founders Sly Lee, Issac Castro Garcia, and Mauricio Teranꟷoriginally met at Singularity University in 2015. The company developed its first proof-of-concept device a year later, and after initial funding set out to refine its virtual human interaction technology.

The company’s efforts have produced a hardware/virtual reality system, called Emerge Home, that makes it possible for users to physically feel tactile experiences with bare hands in a virtual space, without the need for gloves, controllers, or any wearables. The system’s hardware component is Emerge Wave-1, a laptop-sized tabletop device that allows the user’s hands to be controllers. The device emits ultrasound waves that allow users to feel and interact via touch in the virtual world.

Ultrasound Sensors

The ultrasound component for the system was introduced last September when Emerge announced the development of the ultrasound sensor. The sensor, which incorporates MEMS technology to reduce cost and size, enables the Emerge Wave-1 to project ultrasound waves around virtual objects and interactions. This in turn creates a mid-air field of interaction up to three feet above the device and 120 degrees around it. The interaction field created by the device produces a region that enables users to replicate touch to communicate emotions.

Other components of the Emerge system include the Emerge Home Quest 2 app and the Emerge Home mobile app. The Home Quest app enables users to invite up to seven people in a virtual gathering space where they can share tactile greetings such as a virtual hi-five or a handshake. The app also enables participants to converse in a “Game Room” where they can can compete or collaborate in a variety of tactile-first games. 

The system is designed to work with the Quest 2 virtual reality headset, which is available separately from Oculus through retail outlets.

Emerge is targeting the system at virtual reality gamers and others trying to bring a different feel to their virtual reality interactions. While it is too early to predict whether the product will gain traction, the rapid growth of the metaverse market and increased interest in the sector will likely help.

A just-released market research report by Global Market Estimates, called the Global Metaverse Market, projects the global metaverse market growing at a compound annual growth rate of 45 percent from 2022 to 2027. Growth factors include rising interest and focus on merging and converging digital and physical worlds, the increasing penetration of smartphones and the internet in developing regions, rising adoption of mixed reality, and the augment of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another recent study, by National Research Group (NRG), found two out of three customers to be interested in the metaverse, a stat boosted by people isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic desiring shared experiences with friends and family. The study also found that 58 percent of respondents believe the metaverse could eventually replace social media as a key form of human interaction, with many hoping the metaverse will provide more of an environment conducive to human interaction.

The Emerge Home system and Emerge Wave-1 device are now available on Kickstarter, at a retail value of $499.

Spencer Chin is a Senior Editor for Design News covering the electronics beat. He has many years of experience covering developments in components, semiconductors, subsystems, power, and other facets of electronics from both a business/supply-chain and technology perspective. He can be reached at [email protected].

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