StretchSense built an actually comfortable hand-motion capture glove • TechCrunch

StretchSense built an actually comfortable hand-motion capture glove • TechCrunch

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New Zealand-based StretchSense, a maker of hand motion capture technology, believes virtual and augmented reality will replace the smartphone as the dominant way to interact with digital worlds and with each other. And when that happens, we’ll need natural ways to immerse ourselves in those spaces, which means being able to touch and control virtual elements with your hands.

The startup has built a glove that captures the complex movements of human hands, along with the software that then translates those movements into an animation. Currently, StretchSense’s technology is used by over 200 game and visual effects studios worldwide to create realistic hand gestures for everything from sign language videos to cinematic fight scenes to virtual health and safety training. In fact, it was recently used to make Snoop Dogg’s “Crip Ya Enthusiasm” music video. Benjamin O’Brien, co-founder and CEO of StretchSense, told TechCrunch that he thinks StretchSense can “be the future of human-machine interface for virtual worlds by building clothes, not devices.”

StretchSenses’ glove is made using the startup’s proprietary stretch sensor technology that accurately measures the human form. Before being sewn into the glove, the stretchy material looks and feels like elastic rubber with some light black lines running through it. These black lines are called a stretch capacitor – a capacitor is the same type of sensor used on smartphone screens to measure how much energy the screen is storing depending on where you put your finger, that’s how that it works what you touch. In the case of StretchSense, when the material stretches with hand movements, the amount of energy it can store increases.

“If you can measure how much energy this can store, then you can determine its geometry very, very, very accurately,” O’Brien said.

I tried the glove on myself at a demo in Auckland and can admit it was indeed a comfortable fit, which O’Brien says isn’t always a given in the world of hand motion capture.

“The main advantage is that we make clothes, not appliances. And by that we mean that we make clothes that are comfortable to wear, that do not interfere with movement, that do not break easily and that do not ‘have no hard, lumpy pieces of plastic,” O’Brien said. “And so the way we were able to beat the competition in the motion capture space, if you look at any competing product, there are all these lumpy plastic pieces everywhere and interferes with hand movement, it breaks easily. And it’s based on technology that just doesn’t adapt naturally to the body.

StretchSense closed a $7.6m Series A investment on Thursday, led by Scottish firm Par Equity with participation from existing investors in StretchSense, the New Zealand-based venture capital firm GD1, and Scottish Enterprise, Scotland’s National Economic Development Agency.

The startup intends to use the funds to expand its center of excellence in Edinburgh which focuses on AI and spatial computing and will work on machine learning problems to constantly improve the product – things like capture finer and more precise details, lower the threshold of the uncanny valley in animations, and transition from a 2D screen to a 3D virtual world.

The startup is also working on developing a haptic glove that it will then launch in VR training that will stimulate both touch and movement in virtual worlds.

“We want to be the future of how people control, influence and touch virtual worlds, but you have to base that on realistic business models,” O’Brien said. “And the most realistic business model was creating content for game and movie studios. Number two for us would be VR training. And it’s about solving the retraining crisis where you have people with shorter and shorter careers, but the complexity of those jobs is increasing, so you have this problem where you actually have to be able to train people very quickly and often in time-critical and safety-critical situations where there’s has money or lives at stake.

Once StretchSense has built a viable business in the direction of VR training, the startup hopes to use a next iteration of this technology to move into the VR gaming and experience space.

“We want to create tools that creators across the metaverse will use to create incredible virtual spaces and experiences,” O’Brien said.

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