Ping Fu Second Blog Post
As a child I always loved to touch things – and when I grew up I loved anything that engaged my senses: gardening, cooking, Legos, machinery – even gauges. Maybe it was because I didn’t go to school. Chairman Mao had said we needed to be re-educated by the workers, farmers and soldiers. I spent my childhood in an abandoned field of an aeronautics campus; airplane wings became slides and scraps of metal were our toys. I learned through making radios for people, speedometers for cars and sheet metal for airplanes.
It’s no coincidence that our company would also be involved in making things. Geomagic was founded with a focus on creating digital versions of physical objects. But while they look good on a screen in a 3D digital environment, we can’t touch things that we’ve scanned. We can’t grab digital models, and snap fit them like we can with Legos. The potential of not just accessing data, but the ability to interact with the data and make the data do things fascinates me. So when I heard Sensable Technologies was looking for a strategic partnership, I jumped in with both feet.
We have known Sensable Technologies for many years, I saw the company at SIGGRAPH in 1999. Everyone was mesmerized by the innovation, and I, too, fell in love with it — the device pushed back to me with sophisticated and realistic forces, and I could feel the texture of a digital model, the snap fit of an assembly — it was surreal.
Sensable and Geomagic have maintained a parallel track over the years, and as we were looking at it more closely last year, we saw more synergy between the two businesses than ever before and my sixth sense told me the time was right. We remained impressed with the people that had persevered through ups and downs and still held the same passion and devotion to the haptic technology with which they had started more than a decade before.
We were, however, not seduced by a perfect product in a perfect market. The attraction was rooted from the potential to feel the sensory feedback in the digital environments and the compatibility of the two companies: our culture, product offerings, markets and customers. Sensable shared the same vision with Geomagic – create and simulate our physical world in digital environments, bringing human sense, vision and touch into 3D. Investing in a technology that is precious and working with the people who are passionate have always been the joy of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Delightfully, this has been the best merger that I’ve seen in years, and we could not be happier with the result. In just two short months post-merger, Sensable’s business has accelerated, the momentum is building, and the market has reacted positively. The culture fit was obvious and people are happy. We sent gift baskets from North Carolina to their homes in Boston, and they ordered large boxes of ice cream for us to indulge. The love is in the air. OK, how can anyone not be seduced? Now Geomagic can bring the physical world into a digital environment and users can touch it.
Why is touch so important? It’s the first sense we experience and it allows us to connect with our world. User experience has been a buzzword for years — now a combination of the Geomagic and Sensable technologies can truly provide an environment where the user experience is the solution itself.
For the last 25 years, being digital was cool. We have all been very busy digitising the real world and real people — and not just in design and manufacturing but across many areas including banking, communications and more. We do this because once data is digital you can do many things with it.
While the haptic solutions from Sensable are in high demand now for design, sculpting and medical disciplines, to name a few, this technology also represents a future that is transformative in the way that data is no longer passive but active.
In our world of 3D digital data, the process of digitising the real world into digital is now coming back full circle. 3D printing is physical, created from 3D data, and in a form you can hold and touch. Physical is now becoming cool again.
So where does this take us? How can touch transform the 3D world?
Imagine you can have Google Earth floating in space, viewed using a 3D TV and wearing a haptic glove, you can simply reach out and touch the earth.
Imagine that kids can play with Legos by picking virtual pieces up, and feel as it successfully snaps together just like you can feel with real Legos.
Imagine a surgeon located in Australia conducting surgery looking at 3D medical imaging data, using her hand to control a remote surgical appliance. She can feel everything she does, in real time, while the robotic hand is doing exactly what the surgeon is doing, on a patient who is in Africa. Geomagic can take in CT/MRI data and make models of anatomy and Sensable can provide the sense of touch in real time — this is by no means science fiction.
Indications are that sensors will be the ‘technology of the decade,’ just like it was the PC in the 80s, the Network in the 90s and the Internet in the 2000s. Paul Saffo, a technology futurist who is with me on the board of The Long Now Foundation, has been predicting for some time that sensors will be the hottest technology of the decade. These are already surrounding our daily lives in the form of sensors for the level of gas in our car, sensors that allow aircraft to be piloted remotely, sensors on a remote control that tell us when batteries are low and of course, Sensable products are based on sensors and scanners are sensors.
Where will they take us? I’m not sure, but I think it will be fun to find out!