2018 is off with a bang, and so are we! We spent this past week in Las Vegas demo-ing our technology at CES and had a great time talking with fellow entrepreneurs and technologists. Here’s a few key takeaways from our CES experience.
Great Startups Start Anywhere
During CES, Shantanu spoke on a Techstars panel themed “Great Startups Start Anywhere” to share the benefits and reasons of why companies decide to start outside of Silicon Valley. In addition to representing our home state, Shantanu highlighted the importance of the networks and resources we have in Arizona, and how Phoenix is a becoming start-up city. The diversity in company headquarters throughout Eureka Park also illustrates the claim that great startups start anywhere. Companies we talked with came from a wide variety of cities in the US including Kansas City, Arlington, Cincinnati, and Detroit. Exhibitors from the Netherlands, Canada, and France — among many other foreign countries– had a large presence in Eureka Park.
It’s been about six weeks since we returned to Phoenix after participating in Kansas City Techstars, meaning this post is pretty overdue. I’ve had decent time to reflect on my time in program and wanted to share three Techstars experiences that remain valuable as I continue working at Somatic Labs and in the start-up community. Keep reading
We have an exciting annoucement to make: we’ve just released an early preview of our SDK! If you’re a software developer and have been waiting to start developing for Moment, here’s your first look. We’re excited to see what you’ll make!
The SDK is still under development, and it’s likely to change in the coming months.
This repository contains the Software Development Kit (SDK) for Moment, the wearable device that communicates entirely through your sense of touch.
The Da Vinci Surgical System is a robot built by Intuitive Surgical. After being approved for use by the FDA in 2000, it has been adopted by surgeons performing a wide range of minimally invasive procedures, including prostatectomies, cardiac valve repair, and gynecologic procedures. As of June 30, 2014, approximately 3,100 Da Vinci robots were installed worldwide, with each unit costing roughly $2 million. The primary innovation of the Da Vinci system is the surgeon’s console: an immersive visualization system that takes an ordinary laparoscopic image and projects it to a binocular display, enhancing the dexterity with which a surgeon can perform several procedures. For the patient, the Da Vinci system typically provides a reduced amount of pain and blood loss, frequently resulting in a shorter hospital stay and faster recovery period. Continue reading “Haptic Feedback in the Da Vinci Surgical System”
Sensory synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon in which stimuli from one modality of sensory input leads to involuntary and automatic experiences in another sensory modality. There is some debate regarding the classification of synesthetic phenomenon, but several striking observations reveal that at least a small percentage of people experience a heightened interconnectedness between their different senses.
Kiki, Bouba, and Visual Perception
In 1929, the German-American scientist Wolfgang Kohler observed what is now known as the Bouba-Kiki effect . In 2001, Vilyanur S. Ramachandran replicated Kohler’s experiment with college students in the United States and India, and found a large consensus between participants prompted to provide auditory names to visual objects . The findings of Ramachandran and Kohler demonstrate that sensory information appears to carry a predictable and consistent scaffolding of associations and relationships to other modalities of stimuli. The participants’ visual perceptions of the shapes printed on the page were used to make judgments of the appropriate auditory sounds that ought to be associated with those shapes. VS Ramachandran and his colleague Edward Hubbard suggest that the evolution of language may not be entirely arbitrary—instead, the naming of objects in space may reflect a natural association of auditory stimuli with the visual, tactile, olfactory, and overall perception of the object’s nature. Sounds (and by extension, all sensory information) may automatically convey some degree of symbolic meaning in relation to experiences from other senses.
When viewed with an MRI, the brain activity of a patient with a localized lesion in the right ventrolateral nucleus of the thalamus revealed modifications to the individuals’ perception. “Initially, the patient was more likely to detect events on the contralesional side when a simultaneous ipsilesional event was presented within the same, but not different sensory modality.” Eventually, this transformed into a form of synesthesia “in which auditory stimuli produce tactile percepts.” This study revealed the likelihood that the experience of sensory synesthesia may be acquired after a brain injury .
Mirror-touch synesthesia is a condition in which watching another person being touched activates a similar neural circuit to actual touch. When observing individuals who experience mirror-touch synesthesia with brain imaging, their empathic responses to the experiences of other people appears to be heightened . This form of synesthesia also appears to augment an individual’s ability to recognize and interpret the facial expressions of an interaction partner . Although a thorough empirical explanation for the phenomenon has not yet been developed, there are different potential theoretical explanations currently being investigated in more detail. The Threshold Theory explains it “in terms of hyper-activity within a mirror system for touch and/or pain,” and the Self-Other Theory explains it “in terms of disturbances in the ability to distinguish the self from others.”  The two theories carry different implications: the Threshold Theory implies a localized phenomenon impacting the mirror system, while the Self-Other theory implies a more general difference that may be reflected in other cognitive processes as well.
Enhanced Sensory Perception
Some scholars argue that artistic experimentation may be rooted in sensory synesthesia, by allowing an artist to describe a sensory experience using a wider range of detail . Although scientists have developed methods of testing and profiling synesthetes , much of the theoretical framework used to understand cross-modal sensory perception remains speculative. Although VS Ramachandran mentions a possible relationship between synesthesia and enhanced sensory perception , it remains unclear exactly how this enhancement manifests itself in a person’s ability to perform different activities or pursue artistic endeavors. In a preliminary study exploring the perceptual processing abilities of synaesthetes , “there was a relationship between the modality of synaesthetic experience and the modality of sensory enhancement.” In other words, a synaesthete who experiences color triggered by other sensory modalities will also have enhanced color perception. A synaesthete who experiences tactile sensations will have enhanced tactile perception. Further research is required to understand exactly how these enhanced perceptual abilities manifest themselves in common tasks.
Although anyone without synaesthesia can make art, the process of linking different sensory modalities appears to help some artists produce their most notable works.
 Köhler, W (1929). Gestalt Psychology. New York: Liveright.
 Ramachandran, V.S, & Hubbard, E.M. (2001). Synaesthesia — A Window Into Perception, Thought and Language. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 8(12), 3–34
 Ro, T., Farnè, A., Johnson, R. M., Wedeen, V., Chu, Z., Wang, Z. J., … & Beauchamp, M. S. (2007). Feeling sounds after a thalamic lesion. Annals of neurology, 62(5), 433-441.
 Banissy, M. J., & Ward, J. (2007). Mirror-touch synesthesia is linked with empathy. Nature neuroscience, 10(7), 815-816.
 Banissy, M. J., Garrido, L., Kusnir, F., Duchaine, B., Walsh, V., & Ward, J. (2011). Superior facial expression, but not identity recognition, in mirror-touch synesthesia. The Journal of Neuroscience, 31(5), 1820-1824.
 Ward, J., & Banissy, M. J. (2015). Explaining mirror-touch synesthesia. Cognitive neuroscience, 6(2-3), 118-133.
 Van Campen, C. (1997). Synesthesia and artistic experimentation. Psyche, 3(6).
 Van Campen, C., & Froger, C. (2003). Personal profiles of color synesthesia: developing a testing method for artists and scientists. Leonardo, 36(4), 291-294.
 Ramachandran, V. S. (2003). The emerging mind: the Reith Lectures 2003 (p. 867). London: Profile.
 Banissy, M. J., Walsh, V., & Ward, J. (2009). Enhanced sensory perception in synaesthesia. Experimental brain research, 196(4), 565-571.
Adafruit provides a breakout board for the DRV2605 haptic driver from Texas Instruments. Although the example tutorial included with the product describes a quick way to set up the driver with an eccentric rotating mass (ERM) motor, we prefer using a linear resonant actuator (LRA) for increased precision and enhanced haptic feedback. You can use the breakout board with an Arduino Uno to quickly make a prototype of a system that delivers precise vibrotactile cues.
Solder the header strip onto the breakout board, and solder the LRA onto the breakout board. After this step, your DRV2605 breakout board should look like this:
Step 2: Wiring and Hookup
Connect VIN on the DRV2605 to the 5V supply of the Arduino
Connect GND on the DRV2605 to GND on the Arduino
Connect the SCL pin to the I2C clock SCL pin on your Arduino, which is labelled A5
Connect the SDA pin to the I2C data SDA pin on your Arduino, which is labelled A4
Connect the IN pin to an I/O pin, such as A3
Step 3: Testing and Creating Effects
Adafruit provides a very useful Arduino library for the DRV2605 that you can use to get started. In particular, we recommend looking through the example code to get an idea of the effects you can produce. In page 57 and 58 of the DRV2605 datasheet, you can find a table of all the effects you can produce “out of the box.”
Step 4: Creating Your Own Waveforms
Since you can also set the intensity of the LRA in realtime, you can design your own waveforms and effects by changing the value over time. Adafruit also provides an example for setting the value in realtime on Github. You can combine this example code with a waveform design tool like Macaron to customize the feedback provided by your new Arduino-powered haptic device!
We work with local companies whenever we can. For manufacturing and assembly, we work with Quiktek Assembly in Tempe, Arizona. For component sourcing, we work with Avnet, a leading electronics distributor headquartered in Phoenix. Many of our primary partners are within a quick 15-minute drive from our office, and we also are working to source all of our plastics and miscellaneous parts from local distributors.
Beyond keeping Americans employed, we can guarantee a few things almost every big brand (including the ones named after fruit) cannot:
we pay fair wages
we never employ underage workers
our facilities are powered by cleaner sources of energy
we recycle whenever possible
we meet all EPA regulations
We produce and assemble our products in the United States, and we’re always looking for opportunities to bring jobs back here to the USA. It’s the only way we can ensure we deliver an honest, high-quality product that isn’t subsidized by environmental catastrophe and unfair practices. Continue reading “Moment is Made in the USA”
We asked ourselves: what do they all have in common? They all had a video with excellent production value – a video that could cost anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 or more depending on whether or not the actors were paid.
As a startup that’s bootstrapped and hasn’t raised a large round of investment, we needed to get creative. We used $2,000 of our savings to film a video that could have easily cost 10x as much. We recruited a bunch of our talented friends who are musicians, dancers, researchers, and body builders. Then, we filmed footage and edited until we reached our final iteration:
The wait is over. We’ve finished the design, iterated on the hardware, and written thousands of lines of code. Now, we’re ready to start collecting pre-orders for Moment, the first device that communicates entirely through your sense of touch.
For the first 24 hours, backers will receive a special early bird price of $99 — you won’t be able to get this price anywhere else, ever again.
Spread the word.
Help us bring Moment to as many people as possible. Share Moment with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or elsewhere!
Tag us in your post, and we’ll send you free Somatic Labs swag.
While revising the 3D design for Moment, I started off using a Makerbot Replicator at TechShop. These machines were the first to usher in an era of accessible consumer 3D printing. The bundled software is easy to use, and the printers generally work well. That said, with a $2,000 price tag, they aren’t truly accessible to the average consumer, and a TechShop membership can also be expensive if you don’t use it regularly. With affordable rapid-prototyping in mind, I began asking “Can you get started 3D printing for less?”.
Now, with the Monoprice MP Select Mini, you can. At an MSRP of $200, I decided to get one and try it out for myself. It doesn’t disappoint. It works with a wide range of filaments (ABS, PLA, XT Copolyester, PET, TPU, TPC, FPE, PVA, HIPS, Jelly, Foam, Felty), including a PLA-based wooden filament from Hatchbox. After 3D printing a few models of Shrek and some geometric Pokemon, I was impressed.
absurdly cheap ($200)
heated print bed
compatible with many different filaments
solid exterior built of steel and aluminum (very few plastic parts)
extremely accurate Z-axis motor (possibly more than 100 micron resolution)
limited print space (120x120x120 millimeters)
very minimal instructions – debugging can be hard
cheap built plate material (scratches easily)
imprecise temperature regulation
no enclosure or hood around prints
non-standard parts that require warranty replacement or buying a new printer
If you’re looking to get started with 3D printing, or want to try out different filament types inexpensively, buy this printer. Its price sets it apart from the competition. Any comparable printer is easily 3x the price, but the additional cost may also come with improved reliability—only time will tell whether the MP Select Mini is a durable product.