Valkyrie: Creating the ultra realistic haptics needed to unlock VR.
One of the most difficult things to achieve is perfect alignment of interests and ambitions across a group of people. We’re talking about the start-up equivalent of “Love at First Sight” — you get into a room together and everything clicks. This is especially true for the exceptionally ambitious: those with giant, idiosyncratic visions.
Yet this is what we managed to achieve with the founders of Valkyrie.
Kourosh joined DSV with 7+ years experience as an Industrial Designer/ Product Design Engineer working in various roles such as Future trend research, Market analysis, CAD expert, UI/UX, R&D with firms such as Nokia, Yamaha, MLE and Xylem. He had recently completed masters in Innovation Design Engineering at Imperial.
When we met him, he had been thinking about ways of reducing the formfactor of mobile phones. The barrier he ran up against was batteries. But, what if the battery was no longer integrated in the phone, but instead was… on your body?
I remember exclaiming in amazement when I heard that he’d strapped the prototype to his arms and “used it”. It was quite a lot of electricity, and the prototype wasn’t quite as safe-looking as the image above. “Does it work?” I’d asked.
“It’s quite good at melting things. And setting things on fire” he responded. We offered him a place at DSV very shortly afterwards.
Ivan came from a PhD in nanotechnology and a postdoc in flexible electronics at Imperial College as well as industry experience in semiconductor production.
For his application to DSV, we challenged him to develop a way of monitoring blood for risk of clotting. Without removing blood from your body. He not only came up with a way, he came up with a host of ways. He’s one of those exceptionally creative, brilliant scientists who manages to maintain an air of naivety no matter what. Everything starts from first principles in a process that is airtight to rogue assumptions.
He also plays in a fantastic band! After hearing them play, we were so impressed, we recruited the lead singer for DSV Beta.
VR is still a long way from being truly realistic and one of the key things holding it back is a realistic sense of touch. Everything seems to float around as if the user is on some sort of hallucinogenic, no weight to anything, no texture: it’s a very strange experience. Meanwhile, all of the proposed solutions are incredibly impractical.
The Valkyrie team set out to fix this. Their aim was a seamless, completely scalable and truly immersive haptic experience. The first “task” they set themselves was to simulate the tactile experience of throwing and catching an apple in a virtual world within 3 months.
The first prototype was built in 2 weeks, on a budget of £35. Shortly afterwards, InnovateUK granted them £70,000. At this point, they had known each other around 11 weeks in total.
The team were able to make so much progress, so quickly because together their skills were a perfect match to implement a convincing haptic experience. One, an electronics specialist, the other a consumer electronics visionary. But moreover, they worked exceptionally productively together. They were consequently able to bring on senior Directors from the world’s leading VR/AR firms, such as Sony and HTC as advisors, despite only having spent less than £50 on the development of their prototype.
We’ll update this post as the commercial product comes together.