The lead image is not actually what the suit looks like, FYI.
Haptic technology is one of the key VR areas we’re still lagging on significantly. Haptic technologies as a whole aim to simulate physical sensations. When you reach out to pluck an apple from a tree in VR, a haptic glove can let you feel its shape. Advanced haptics might even simulate the texture and sponginess of the virtual apple. How about feeling impacts as you take part in a VR shooter? Having your movement restricted by a haptic suit to make the experience much more believable?
Disney has produced a new haptic device that pushes us closer to that total-immersion vision.
May the Force Be With You (Disney Owns Star Wars Now)
It’s called the “force jacket”, but probably has nothing to do with Mickey Mouse’s latest acquisition. It’s the product of a talented Disney Labs research team and you can read the original research paper here.
Essentially it’s a jacket with lots of little air bladders lining the inside. These are dynamically inflated and deflated by the VR simulation to make your body feel all sorts of things.
Have a look at this video demo.
In one scene, a woman looks at her VR avatar as it grows bigger, bulkier and basically starts to Hulk-out with virtual muscles. At the same time, the jacket is making her feel bigger and less agile for real.
It’s not just relatively static experiences such as feeling bigger. The jacket can also simulate dynamic forces, such as being hit by a ball or being bumped by another person.
It’s Only a Model
The technology behind the force jacket is pretty impressive, but there’s no telling if it can ever be turned into the sort of thing you could buy for yourself. Right now it’s a fragile, complex and rather clunky system. It’s really meant as a stepping stone towards future haptic systems and a research tool to further the field as a whole.
Already the paper lists 14 distinct “feel effects” that the jacket can create. There’s being hit by a snowball, light rain, hugs and the aforementioned muscle enhancement. All pleasant experiences. Then there’s a fist punch, slime dripping on your back, a snake slithering around your body and crawling with bugs. Still very cool, but perhaps with some visceral aversion if you ask me.
It’s good to know folks far smarter than the rest of us are spending their time trying to make the experience of VR better. Even if you do have to wear a wacky life preserver jacket to do it.