Imagine getting the real time feeling of a virtual snake wrapping your body or a sharp blow of a punch on your nose or a warm hug. Now, real life experience of virtual reality is no more limited to visual, audios and simple vibrations from joysticks. You can feel it real, thanks to the researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, Carnegie Mellon University and Disney who have come up with a jacket expanding the scope of virtual reality (VR).
The Force Jacket, as it is called, has 26 inflatable compartments which can reproduce feel effects of a hug, a punch or a snake wrapping around your body. The speed, force and duration of inflating or deflating the airbags are modified to create these sensations. The pressure and vibration correspond to the visual display, allowing the user to feel the actions they perform and witness in VR.
They have created three prototype VR simulations to display the jacket. While one put a person on a snow-covered front lawn giving him the experience of a snowball fight, the other made a cartoon snake slither up user’s torso and squeeze his chest. The third provided a user with the magic feeling of getting his body transform into a muscular hero.
The jacket vest weighs about five pounds and is made out of re-purposed life vest with the flotation foam removed. The sleeves can adjust to fit different body types and Velcro is used to keep it in place.
“The primary motivation of this research was to enhance the entertainment value of head-mounted, display-based visual VR experiences in games and movies, by providing on-body force feedback,” the researchers explained in their paper published in Disney Research.
The jacket is connected to computer software that controls inflatable compartments adding new kinds of perception and depth to VR. With the Force Jacket, a 360 degree VR experience is possible but user’s ability to rotate or move in VR space is limited by tubing that tethers them to air and vacuum supply. Scientists are now working on this limitation to allow users to have untethered experience.