Japanese startup wants to cause real pain in the metaverse

A Japanese tech start-up is banking on inflicting physical pain on people in the metaverse, one of a growing number of companies trying to capitalize on delivering real-world human experiences in virtual worlds.

H2L, a Sony-backed company founded a decade ago, has developed a product equipped with a wristband to detect human muscle flexion, allowing the user’s avatar in the metaverse to copy the movements of the body and people actually feeling the presence and weight of objects. The technology uses electrical stimulation to manipulate arm muscles and mimic sensations, such as B. catching a ball or pecking a bird on the skin.

“The feeling of pain allows us to turn the Metaverse world into a real world [world]with an increased sense of presence and immersion,” said Emi Tamaki, CEO and co-founder of the Tokyo-based company.

Tamaki is a researcher in haptic technologies related to the sense of touch. Her goal is to “free people from every kind of limitation of space, body and time by 2029” when – with advances in networking and electronic devices – she expects H2L’s products to have myriad applications.

Tamaki’s decades-old company is part of a growing segment of Japanese companies and investors Unlocking the blurring line between the real world and the metaverse, as large technology groups are investing heavily in the sector. Facebook renamed to Meta last October, as the social media group wants to focus on building virtual worlds. According to data provider Tracxn, the top 10 virtual reality startups in Japan have raised a total of $60 million.

Meta announced in November that it was developing a haptically vibrating glove, and Spanish start-up OWO has developed a jacket outfitted with sensors so users can feel sensations ranging from hugs to gunshots.

H2L has raised an estimated 1 billion yen (US$8.4 million) and is valued at about 5 billion yen and hopes to launch an IPO worth up to 20 billion yen within the next five years, according to people, who know the plans of the company.

Tamaki began her work in haptics after having a near-death experience related to congenital heart disease in her late teens. She came up with the idea of ​​developing a technology that would allow bodily experiences to be linked to computers while she was in the hospital and co-founded the company after earning her PhD in engineering from Tokyo University.

“I realized that life is precious, so I decided to work in a new field that I really wanted to delve into, since there was nobody doing research at the time,” she said.

Tamaki said the technology could be used for games, but people could also use it to feel virtual world events in real life. For example, the technology could make it feel like participating in a user’s childhood activity, such as B. throwing a ball with a parent by recreating the senses associated with throwing and catching a ball as the activity occurs in the virtual world.

“People like me who can’t go out often because I don’t have enough muscle due to heart disease can travel anywhere, anytime,” she said.

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Adam Bradshaw

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