Exclusive interview for SPINOFF with Prof. Cheok & Ms. Zhang (PhD) on Kissenger, the gadget which allows remote kissing via the Internet.
Kissing allows people to share intimacy and emotions. Long distance families, couples and friends can maintain a close relationship even without being physically together. Kissenger is an innovative gadget, invented by Professor Adrian David Cheok, that can be plugged into the smartphone and transmits realistic kissing sensations through the force controller from the sender to the recipient in real time via Internet. With the breakthrough device in the sphere of mixed reality, it became possible to share intimate moments with friends and families, while chatting with them on the phone or having the video chat, in order to keep the social connection with each other. Incorporating touch, smell and physical interaction can make Internet communication a much richer, intimate and meaning experience in the nearest future.
S.O.C.: Dear Professor Cheok and Emma, our team is so grateful that you are agreed to spend this hour speaking with us and sharing all information about your unique and one-of-a-kind Kissenger, the remote kissing machine.
So, the potential investors would like to learn more about a vast experience of your academic endeavours and your professional and scientific background. I know that your professional life is connected with not only one university. You are a keynote speaker worldwide and we would like to hear of your professional honours and awards, too.
Professor Cheok: Currently, I have two positions, the Chair Professor of Pervasive Computing at City, University of London and I am also the Director of the Imagineering Institute in Malaysia, the mutual project between the Malaysian Government and City, University of London, some universities in Japan and some Malaysian universities. As the Founder and Director of the Imagineering Institute in Malaysia and the Founder and Director of the Mixed Reality Lab in Singapore, my main work is to run my lab with 50 researchers mainly electrical and mechanical engineering and computer science. I was formerly a full-time professor at Keio University, Graduate School of Media Design and Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore. Previously, for 15 years I have been working on research, covering mixed reality, human-computer interfaces, wearable computers and ubiquitous computing, fuzzy systems, embedded systems and power electronics.
My research output includes numerous high-quality academic journal papers, research awards, keynote speeches, international exhibitions, numerous government demonstrations including to government President and Prime Ministers. I am the Editor in Chief of some academic journals such as Transactions on Edutainment (Springer), ACM Computers in Entertainment, and Lovotics: Academic Studies of Love and Friendship with Robots, and Multimodal Technologies and Interaction. I am also an Associate Editor of around ten computer science, electrical and engineering and virtual reality journals.
For several years, I was invited to exhibit in the Ars Electronica Museum of the Future. My works “Human Pacman”, “Magic Land”, and “Metazoa Ludens” were each selected as one of the world's top inventions by Wired and invited to be exhibited in Wired NextFest 2005 and 2007. I was awarded the Hitachi Fellowship, the A-STAR Young Scientist of the Year Award, the SCS Singapore Young Professional of the Year Award, an Associate of the Arts award by the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, Singapore, a Microsoft Research Award for Gaming and Graphics, the C4C Children Competition Prize for best interactive media for children, the Integrated Art Competition Prize by the Singapore Land Transport Authority, Creativity in Action Award, and a First Prize Nokia Mindtrek Award, Gold Award for the best Creative Showcase ACE. I am the winner of Keio University Gijyuju-Sho Award, a SIP Distinguished Fellow Award, which honours legendary leaders around the globe and the Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, “Honorary Expert” by Telefonica and El Bulli, Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA). My research on smell interfaces was selected by NESTA as Top 10 Technologies of 2015. In 2016, I was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Awards by University of Adelaide, in recognition of his achievements and contribution in the field of Computing, Engineering and Multisensory communication. Lately, I entered the elite list of the h-Index for Computer Science, a list that contains only the top 0.06% of all computer scientists in the world.
From this video, we see that things in Virtual Reality changed a lot for recent 20 years. Considering your tremendous experience in this area, we would like to know whether you had other projects before? Could you please share the story of their creation and success. Have you received any grants or state funding on your projects?
When I graduated from the University of Adelaide, Australia in 1998 with my PhD in Engineering, I started working in Mitsubishi Electric Research Lab in Japan, in the field of industrial electronics and systems. Then, at the age of 26, I joined the National University of Singapore, where I was the youngest Assistant Professor. There I was given the grant to work on mixed reality. Two examples of my previous successful research projects in such sphere are Human Pacman and Huggy Pajama.
Human Pacman, a novel mixed reality interactive entertainment system that allows the human players to immerse in role-playing of the characters Pacman and Ghost by physically enacting the roles, was initially invented based on technologies we developed for an Augmented Reality location-based information systems for soldiers in the urban battlefield. Pacman has pioneered a new form of gaming that anchors on physicality, mobility, social interaction, and ubiquitous computing. "Human Pacman" received the honour of being selected as the top 100 visionary and high impact technology works in the world by the USA based WIRED magazine and was invited to be demonstrated in the Wired NextFest 2005 in Chicago. The project was also heavily featured in the media worldwide including the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, BBC, CNN etc. I saw that it would just be revolutionary new kind of computer gaming where you play the game in the physical world. And now, in 20 years, we know that such gaming becomes a huge commercial success as Pokemon Go.
I can count a rather big amount of externally funded projects in the area of wearable computers and mixed reality for which we obtained approximately $20 million in funding from Media Development Authority, Nike, National Oilwell Varco, Defense Science Technology Agency, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Communications and Arts, National Arts Council, Singapore Science Center, and Hougang Primary School.
I also started to look for different possibilities on how my knowledge could be applied new kinds of communication and interaction, not just a vision, but also touch, and smell and even taste. The other successful project was the Huggy Pajama, which is a wearable system aimed at promoting physical interaction in remote communication between parent and child. This system enables parent and child to hug one another through a novel hugging interface device and a wearable, hug reproducing jacket connected through the Internet. This project is a predecessor of Kissenger, as both projects are focused on transmitting touch through the internet. This system was later commercialised for autistic children to relieve their stress by receiving a hug from their parents while they are away.
Some of my commercial projects are RingU and Scentee. RingU also makes use of remote haptic technology and the haptic device is in the form of a ring. Couples wearing the haptic ring can squeeze their rings to send a mini-hug to each other through the Internet. This project has successfully received funding from a Korean investor and it was launched in Seoul in 2014. Scentee is a Japanese company that we collaborate with working on digital smell technologies. The device is a smartphone attachment that can emit different types of smells using a smartphone app. The device is available for $50 on the Scentee website.
Dear Professor Cheok let's back to the recent project Kissenger. It is so interesting to know more about the process of Kissenger creation. Please tell on which stage of commercialization it currently is?
The initial idea of Kissenger started about 10 years ago. Besides the Huggy Pajama that allows people to hug each other over the Internet, I also wanted to build a device that people can use to kiss each other through the Internet. The early version of Kissenger was a simple head shaped device with only a pair of realistic lips on it. We did some studies and people felt that it looked creepy. We then built a cuter version of the device in the form of a toy pig with rubber lips. This device had a simple force sensing and vibrotactile haptic feedback mechanism and it was connected to a computer.
I wanted to build a new version of the device for mobile phones, so that people can kiss their loved ones while talking or having video chats with their loved ones on the phone. The current version of the device has a higher resolution force sensing interface to measure the lip pressure from a user, and the linear actuators generate varying pressure on the partner's lips to reproduce the kiss in real time. The current prototype device can be connected to the mobile phone and users can have a video chat with their friends and families and share a kiss at the same time using the device.
We made a special web-site for the project, through which we have been receiving over 400 unsolicited enquiries monthly from customers who would like to buy Kissenger, even though it is still in the prototype stage and we have not commercialised or publicised it yet. One man has recently been contacting us to commercialise Kissenger, but we felt he is too young and not experienced enough. We are still looking for suitable and experienced investors who are keen to help us commercialise the product.
TEAM – so meaningful word. Could you please share some information about the team members who supported you and the project? What are the key additions to the team needed in the short term?
During my project development, I was supported by my PhD student, Emma Yann Zhang, who has been developing the Kissenger prototypes for her PhD research. We met when she was an undergraduate student in Singapore, and now she has been studying as my PhD student for more than 2 years at City, University of London and in my lab Imagineering Institute in Malaysia. She is a very strong electrical engineer and the main team member, working with me on this project. She knows of Kissenger as much as I do. She will introduce and tell few words about her work and the project.
Emma Yann Zhang: Hello. As Professor Cheok said, I have an engineering background. I studied for two years at the National University of Singapore from 2010-2012. I joined the Mixed Reality Lab for one semester and worked on several projects, including Digital Taste Interface and Huggy Pajama with PhD students and researchers. I have received a B.Eng. in Electronic Engineering (First Class Honours) from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) in 2013. I worked as a Project Assistant in the Social Media Lab at HKUST, developing a gesture-controlled Bluetooth wearable device that controls smartphone and desktop applications. I was awarded Dean’s List for two consecutive semesters and received first prize in the HK IEEE Student Paper Contest the same year. I won the UK Trade and Investment Sirius Programme, aimed to support and sponsor international graduate entrepreneurs to start a business in the UK. I joined a startup company based in London as a website developer in 2014.
My research interests are multisensory communication, haptic technologies, pervasive and wearable computing. My previous work involved low-power wearable devices, gesture control, microprocessors and embedded systems, mobile app development and web development. Together with Professor Cheok, I am mainly focused on how we can communicate with touch and transmit those senses via the Internet.
When I went to London to work on my PhD degree, I used my previous experience in smartphones apps and Bluetooth devices, microcontrollers in the development of Kissenger for my PhD research. The demo of the Kissenger prototype was presented during an international academic conference held in London and drew huge attention from the participants as well as from the media channels such as BBC, Huffington Post, The Guardian, The Times, Discovery Channel etc. Currently, I am responsible for the development of the hardware prototype and mobile app of the project. The prototype needs to be upgraded to make the commercial version more suitable option for smartphones.
New technology or product and its following commercialization supposes some problem and addresses unmet needs. Respectively, what problem did you intend to solve by creating Kissenger? What results did you plan to achieve?
Current digital communication technologies focus heavily on visual and audio information, lacking the ability to transmit physical touch. Many people criticise digital technologies for encouraging social isolation and diminishing human abilities to empathise and form emotional bonds. Kissenger was developed to provide an intimate communication channel for families and friends to physically interact with each other remotely, in order to effectively convey deep emotions and intimacy through a multisensory Internet communication experience. With our device long distance families, couples and friends can maintain a close relationship even without being physically together.
After this video material we have a clear vision of how the device works, but what are the USP of Kissenger and fundamental difference from other technologies/products? Was the problem which you targeted to solve actual before? Has someone tried to solve it?
As far as we know, there is not a similar product available on the market yet. From the research perspective, we are developing a novel multisensory haptic device which transmits realistic lip pressure through the internet. Most of the haptic devices available nowadays use of vibrotactile stimulation to reproduce the sensation of touch. In real life, being touched or kissed is the sensation of pressure applied to the skin. We use linear actuators instead of vibration motors to generate force feedback on the user's lips to produce kissing haptic sensations. Furthermore, our system transmits the haptic kissing sensations in real time over the internet bidirectionally. Many of the haptic systems are unidirectional. Lastly, our device works with mobile phones, which can connect to all the social networks such as Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp and Skype etc.
Investors for sure need to understand the investment structure of the company. Are you totally owning your spinoff?
The IP of Kissenger is jointly owned by me (Adrian David Cheok) and my PhD student, Emma Yann Zhang, and Imagineering Institute which I am Director of. Although we have not set up an official company for Kissenger, we are in the process of establishing a company because we have more brilliant ideas for the commercialisation of the product and it will be the next step.
We wonder what is the actual addressable market for your invention and what are the current competitors there? Could you please share with us the results of the market studies, if there are any? What might be the barriers to entry?
We think that this could be a commercial success in USA, Japan, South Korea, China and European markets. In Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea, people are more shy to have physical contact. Having a kissing device might help them experience intimate interactions through a mediated channel. Most of the requests to purchase Kissenger we received are from long distance couples who would like to stay intimate with their partners during their long distance relationship. However, we think this device could also be targeted for families, especially grandparents and grandchildren who often stay apart from each other, or for parents working overseas.
Some similar products available on the market might be the remote controlled vibrators or teledildonics. These sex products are only suitable for couples and they are not commonly found in mainstream stores, hence limiting the range of potential customers. The Kissenger is designed in such a way that it's not overly sexualised. We did not include tongue interaction for the purpose of making it suitable for families and friends. We think this could appeal to a larger audience.
We always need to paint a clear picture to the potential investors of the market the opportunity of the spinoff that is meaningfully large and growing. Why in your opinion your company might have a high growth potential? What industries and spheres of application do you consider your product may be used?
We expect exponentially growing market because more and more people are connecting through the internet, as families and different generations are living further apart. Kissing and physical touch will remain as a fundamental need for people to maintain close relationships. The Kissenger device will provide a solution for them to build physical intimacy even when physically apart. There will be a growing market that includes families, friends and couples. As mentioned above, this device could also be used by grandparents who would love to kiss their grandchildren living in other countries, or parents to kiss their children while they are away for work.
I know how you love your daughter Kotoko and how you miss her during travelling, and I really remember that feeling during my last business trip to London, how I would like to kiss my 11-year-old daughter, so for sure Kissenger has huge potential among customers and I will be one of your first customers.
Moving forward, the potential investors will be curious whether you already have the first clients and signed contracts?
No, we have not signed contracts or have first clients yet.
Dear Professor Cheok, we both know that for you and the investor it is crucial to reach positive cash flow as soon as possible. Certainly, the market scaling cannot be achieved without proper distributors network and clients. Please tell us about your criteria of partners selection and which markets are open for spinoff activity.
We want to collaborate with partners who are specialised in high-tech products and innovative gadgets. We think that this could be a commercial success in USA, Japan, South Korea, China and European markets, which we want to open for spinoff activity.
It is very important to understand your particular vision about unique features of your company. Why do you consider the major market players might be interested in investing into a promotion of Kissenger on the addressable market?
The current technologies of digital communication are heavily focused on visual and audio information. We believe that touch communication is essential for establishing effective social relationships. Incorporating touch and physical interaction can make internet communication much richer, intimate and meaning experience. Future communication technologies should be multisensory and more immersive, placing more emphasis on users' emotional needs and social connections.
Now we would like to refer to the next very crucial and we would even say essential aspect for spinoff companies’ as the strategy of R&D, production, distribution and marketing processes. Do you have your own unique strategy? Which of these processes do you consider your spinoff is strong at?
Maybe I have mentioned before that I am an academic and my PhD student has also mainly been working as a researcher, hence we are most familiar with the research. But we also have very good contacts in Malaysia and China who can produce and manufacture technology products.
As a rule, the majority of spinoffs outgrow into exits. How do you determine the market for the Kissenger and estimate its volume and dynamics? What is your potential share on the market?
How do you think what market cap your company plans to reach the peak of its development and why? How long might this process take?
With the Kissenger product, we think we can be a $100 million company as we are the first one to introduce such a product into the market. In the future, we also have plans to expand the company to make more products in haptic and communication technology.
For spinoff companies, their intellectual property is a key to success. The investors pay particular attention to it. What key intellectual property does your company have (patents, patents pending, copyrights, trade secrets, trademarks, domain names)?
We have applied for a design patent and trademark for Kissenger. As academics, we have mainly been concentrating on academic paper publications which are required of academics. We can share with you some recent papers and book chapters which we have published.
To continue on IP we know that after fast technological breakthrough patent validity period becomes shorter. It is interesting to know the perspectives and protection plan of your technological advancement and leadership in a medium- and long-term prospectives.
We see the current Kissenger prototype as only the beginning of touch communication. With our technologies, not only could we bring remote touch to human users connecting through the Internet, we see a higher potential of such technologies being used in human-robot communication. In recent years, we see a strong trend in research and companies creating robots that people can establish intimate and personal relationships with. Intelligent robots will ultimately become human's companions and there will be robot lovers and sex robots. The topic of Love and Sex with Robots has been widely discussed in the media and it has also become an area of research among academics. We have started an international academic conference on Love and Sex with Robots, and it is in its third year.
Haptic technologies and devices are an essential part of creating robot partners with which people can interact with. One obvious application is sex robots, which require advanced touch sensors and a haptic actuation mechanism to perform activities such as kissing, hugging and intimate sexual acts. It is also important for other robots to be able to communicate with humans through touch as research shows that touch is an essential element in building social relationships. We see the future of our company to be in the area of advanced robotics with touch interaction. For example, we are already in the process of making a new humanoid robotic head that can share a kiss with humans.
As the Kissenger is now almost ready for commercialisation and is going through patent pending. Are you seeking for the investments at the moment? What is the volume and time limits? What milestones will the financing get you to? What did you plan to use the invested funds for?
We require the invested funds to design and manufacture a current commercial version of the Kissenger device. The funds will also be used for the sales, distribution and marketing of the commercial device. The funds should be discussed after evaluation, but to bring the product to the market we can speak about the amount of $3 million.
Ideal investor - who is it for you? What aspects are important for you, for instance, is it experience, country, the amount of own private capital or maybe some personal qualities?
The most important aspects we look for in an investor are the amount of capital and experience with technological products.
What is the most convenient way to receive inquiries from potential investors?
For me, as for the inventor, as well as for the co-founder Emma, the top priority is to bring our Kissenger product to the market, so I, as well as co-founder Emmy, could be reached by any means of communication such as email, phone call or Facebook messenger.
Adrian David Cheok:
Emma Yann Zhang
Dear Professor Cheok and Emma, the founder of SPINOFF.COM, our team and I would like to express gratitude for the interview and all provided materials, that will allow showing the Kissenger's idea and technology for the potential investors. We will attach all the provided materials at the bottom of the page. SPINOFF.COM is honoured to support the development of your spinoff. I just want you to know that I am your big fan and, for sure, I will be one of the first Kissenger customers to thank you for it remotely!
Kissenger on Discovery Channel Daily Planet, January 16th, 2017
"Experts believe AR technology will revolutionize the gaming experience creating an arena where people move about, socialising and interacting with each other instead of being glued to a computer screen. "These games symbolize the dawn of an era where real and virtual interactive experience will form part of the routine of our daily lives, allowing users to indulge in the seamless links across different domains be it for entertainment or socialising," says Mr Cheok. BBC NEWS on Human Pacman