Learn about smart fabric technology, its application to VR technology, and where the company names comes from in our BeBop Sensors Interview with CEO Keith McMillen
Technology is developing at an incredible pace. However, most of the time we only see it in it’s finished form and completely gloss over the amazing work and research that goes into making it. BeBop Sensors is one of the companies that you probably haven’t heard of, but have benefitted from their work and their technology. Through the use of smart fabrics, they create flexible pressure sensor solutions for OEMs. Their technology allows manufacturers to measure pressure or force over complex geometries, like the human body. I was lucky enough to land a BeBop Sensors Interview, with CEO Keith McMillen. We talk about what the company, the sensors, application of the technology, and also about the company name.
What kind of data and information has BeBop Sensors recorded/discovered that was not measurable through other types of sensors previously?
BeBop Sensors uses proprietary pressure sensitive fabrics to measure physical changes such as pressure, bend, twist, and stretch. FSRs and other traditional pressure sensors lose dynamic range when bent around complex geometries; by contrast, BeBop’s fabric excels in these ergonomically challenging applications. And when you add in that our fabric is robust, thin, lightweight, and flexible (it really is just fabric!), you have one of the most dependable and versatile sensors out there.
How does smart fabric technology benefit general consumers?
Consumers are interacting more with computers today than ever before, from smart phones to embedded electronics in household appliances. However, until now the interface was rigid and hard — a sharp contrast to the soft things humans typically surround themselves with. BeBop provides the interface between squishy people and hard things in a form factor that humans want to interact with.
How did you pivot from Musical Instruments to wearable smart fabrics?
I was receiving requests for non-musical applications for our sensor fabric, from companies in every industry out there. Eventually, I decided to spin BeBop Sensors out of Keith McMillen Instruments to address the growing need around the world for a flexible pressure sensor.
How has BeBop Sensors affected VR Technologies?
Virtual Reality is a key market for us at BeBop and a great example of how our technology can provide key benefits. At its core, Virtual Reality aims to transport the user to another world as seamlessly as possible — rigid, stiff electronics only hinder one’s ability to suspend disbelief.
BeBop has developed the first data glove that looks and feels like a normal glove. Instead of a huge exoskeleton, the BeBop Data Glove packs full hand mapping — 10 knuckle sensors, 4 abduction sensors, and an 9 dof IMU — into a lightweight, streamlined package complete with per finger non-resonant haptic feedback. No other glove on the market is capable of providing such an immersive VR experience.
Is BeBop technology going to one day bring us full body immersion into VR? If so, are you worried that your technology will essentially lay the foundation for The Matrix to happen?
How do you know we’re not already in The Matrix?
In all seriousness, you are astute to see the potential for BeBop’s technology to one day fully map the human body. The same technology used to map a hand, arguably the most complex part of the human body, can be deployed to great effect in a body suit. Presently we are starting with an arm as it is adjacent to the hand.
As VR developers continue to decrease the footprint of their systems, work is being done to transition to “inside-out” movement tracking. But to successfully track 100% of body movement without external peripherals, you need a body suit.
Do you have plans to incorporate smart fabric technology into more everyday wear, like jackets?
We have designed systems to incorporate into clothing, mainly targeting the consumer health sector. While the ability to control your phone — change a song or answer a call — is low hanging fruit, we’ve found more traction in providing consumers with the ability to track their health. For example, BeBop’s Smart Insole can track the user’s gait, footstep count, and level of pronation to provide real-time feedback on walking/running form.
Is there a particular area where you want BeBop Sensors to be applied that you haven’t gotten to yet?
We have traction in Gaming & VR, Sports & Fitness, Consumer Health, IoT/Robotics, and Automotive. At the moment, I think we’ve got more than enough to keep us busy.
What fields do you believe BeBop Sensors will have the most profound impact?
While many markets will see the benefits of flexible pressure sensors, we see the most impact in the field of VR/AR. An immersive gaming experience will be substantially enriched by a sensor system capable of molding to any geometry and durometer.
Safety is also a key market for us. Automotive and robotic sensors can keep people safe while having minimal impact on designs and appearances.
What is the next thing people should expect from BeBop Sensors?
Keep an eye out for our latest data glove prototype, due out sometime before the end of the year.
Any chance BeBop Sensors’ name is inspired by Bebop from the Ninja Turtles?
Actually, the name BeBop is a nod back to our sensor’s roots in musical instruments. Bebop is a sub-genre of jazz known for pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in an already deep musical medium. We like to think BeBop Sensors is expanding the art of the possible for the tech world just as Charlie Parker and the other pioneers of bebop did for jazz.