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Computer science major Evelyn Chin leads a team of interns to develop experimental solutions using frontier software and hardware at Emerge.

When various safety measures such as lockdowns and travel restrictions were implemented early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, physical interaction halted. Grandparents couldn’t play with their grandchildren, long-distance couples couldn’t meet with their partners and students couldn’t sit in the classroom with their peers.

The lack of in-person interaction (and countless Zoom calls) is one of the most defining aspects of the pandemic, and it’s why the technology that Emerge has been working on for the past six years has become even more important.

Emerge team photo
Team members from tech startup Emerge.

Emerge is a tech startup based in Los Angeles, California, and was founded in 2015 by CEO Sly Lee, CTO/COO Issac Castro Garcia and Head of Insights Mauricio Teran. The trio met at Google and NASA’s Singularity University and, fueled by their immigrant experiences, “believe in a future where distance and time don’t stand in the way of feeling present.”

The startup has been developing a product that brings physical touch to virtual reality through its innovation in microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS, technology. Emerge’s product relies on “ultrasound waves to create a tangible mid-air force around virtual objects and interactions.” The ultrasound waves are “reflected by the skin,” allowing users to physically feel objects that are hundreds of miles away with their bare hands.

“Incorporating touch into our digital communications could not only help mitigate the effects of skin hunger, but hopefully allow human bonding even when physically apart,” Lee wrote. “Holding hands with a loved one is much more than the simple perception of palm against palm — it is a reminder that touch holds emotion and power.”

In 2019, Emerge’s beta unit allowed for the first virtual high five, and the technology and company have only matured since then.

The Emerge Home product — which includes the Emerge device, Emerge Home Oculus Quest App and Emerge Home mobile app — will allow users to interact with eight people at a time. Emerge’s investors consist of Vulcan Capital, LionTree Partners, Afore Capital and more, and the startup currently employs more than 40 people — including second-year UCI computer science major Evelyn Chin.

Evelyn Chin“I lead a small team of interns to develop experimental solutions using frontier software and hardware of various stacks,” said Chin, who works as Emerge’s Special Projects Lead. “I manage and contribute to the development of technological proof-of-concepts for investor pitches and partnerships.”

The revolutionary technology that Emerge is pioneering isn’t the only cool part about the company. Chin first joined Emerge in high school as a social media intern, and her favorite part about working at the startup is the healthy work culture, which is a testament to their mission statement.

“Emerge has done an excellent job at removing itself from the toxic elements of Silicon Valley startup culture, instead working to embrace the importance of mental health, maintaining work-life balance, and keeping our culture aligned with our mission of empathy and human connection,” she said.

Prior to transferring to UCI, Chin attended Pasadena City College for one year. While she doesn’t have a specific career path in mind at the moment, she said she’s staying open-minded so she can “both learn from and contribute to the world” throughout her computer science studies.

“Frankly, I enjoy computer science, and I love its abstractness and generality of problem-solving,” she said. “I also greatly appreciate its flexibility that opens doors to nearly every industry that exists, enabling me to continuously explore and contribute to new topics and ideas.”

This exploration is what she is doing right now at Emerge. The startup’s mission statement doesn’t revolve around fighting climate change, but as someone who’s passionate about climate justice and sustainability, Chin believes Emerge’s vision of “connecting us and our loved ones so that we all have more capacity to empathize with others, even over distance and time” can help combat environmental issues that plague the planet.

“I see this mission as a path toward forming a society that can care for strangers who are far away, in countries from Kenya and Trinidad and Tobago to Haiti and Myanmar,” Chin said. “I believe finding this empathy for people who are disconnected from us physically is one of the key aspects of addressing climate injustice, where the poorest countries will be the hardest hit by the global warming caused by the richest countries.”

Those who are interested in purchasing Emerge Home can visit to join a waitlist and receive launch updates.

— Karen Phan