Imagine you’re playing one of your favourite video games in virtual reality. Your HMD lets you see and hear things as if you were there, your motion tracker lets you reach out and interact with objects, influencing the world around you. However, you can’t feel anything in this world. Not a breeze, not a touch, nothing.
The Teslasuit, by Tesla Studios (not related to Tesla Motors), is meant to be one solution to this problem. In fact, the Teslasuit has been designed as a complete full-body haptic and motion tracking system, but it’s the innovative way it achieves the simulation of touch that makes it really noticeable
Just as Nikola Tesla was famous for his work using electricity, the Teslasuit’s claim to fame has to do with clever usage of electricity as well. In essence it uses precisely controlled electric pulses to stimulate your skin, muscles and nerve endings. Thereby emulating various sensations on the body. In the demo material provided by the developers a user in a the suit stands before a virtual fan which is felt as air blowing on various parts of the body. It may seem like science fiction, but apparently it’s quite convincing.
The Teslasuit is built around a core control unit. This contains the computer hardware, battery and ports for the HMD of your choice to connect to the system. The control unit, which is worn on the central belt around the waist, is essentially a standalone, wireless, battery powered mobile computer. It has its own operating system, known as TeslaOS and also contains a number of motion sensors and the haptic module.
Since the Teslasuit is effectively a wearable computer, you can install apps directly to the suit itself. Its also possible to stream video games with high-end graphics via the internet using a service from Tesla Studios.
The Teslasuit is modular, it can be configured to match the budget and needs of particular users. There are three different types of modules that can be purchased and added to the suit to expand its functionality. The “e-haptic” module, the motion capture module and the climate control module.
It’s the e-haptic module that drives the electro-sensory trickery. The module drives 30 electrodes with up to 80 milli-Amperes of pulse amplitude per channel and a frequency range of 1 to 500 Hz.
The motion capture module senses motion along nine axes. The module processes motion onboard and refreshes its reading at a rate of 200 Hz. For full body motion capture the suit needs 11 motion capture modules.
The climate control module “regulates body temperature” according to the official web page, although it isn’t clear exactly how it does this. Either way, to have this functionality for the whole body eight modules are required.
The software development kit for the Teslasuit appears to be quite comprehensive. There are tools to program each module type with libraries that developers can use to build Teslasuit support into their software.
There’s no official word on pricing yet, but Tesla Studios is taking pre-order requests. However, based on what we know of the hardware and feature list this is probably a case of “if you have to ask you can’t afford it.”
Still, the applications for training and high-end virtual reality entertainment for the Teslasuit are varied, given that it works as advertised. Whether there will ever be a mainstream version of the technology is an open question, but no one can argue that it wouldn’t be great to feel the winds in the virtual world.