Disney Research, MIT Media Lab, and Carnegie Mellon University have unveiled a new conceptual haptic “force jacket” that simulates physical experiences to people wearing the device. The force jacket is lined with airbags controlled by a computer that inflates and deflates the bags. Disney envisions the jacket will be used with VR headsets for more immersive experiences, given it’s able to simulates hugs, being hit or punched, and peculiarly, the sensation of a snake slithering across your body. The jacket is made up of airbags with sensors attached that direct force and vibrations to specific locations on your body.
The software controlled jacket weighs about 5 pounds and has a valve system that inflates and deflates 26 air compartments. It has adjustable sleeves, and the vest is made of a repurposed life vest with the inside foam replaced with the air bags. The air compartments are located on the jacket’s front, back, arms, and sides.
The speed, force, and duration of inflation and deflation can be controlled using a haptic effects software editor. In their paper, researchers on the project from Disney, MIT, and Carnegie Mellon wrote: “At this stage of work, the goal is to develop core technology for the Force Jacket that will be sufficient for basic psychophysical assessment and to design and test an initial set of effects.” So far, those effects include: a racing heartbeat, light or heavy rain, snowball hit to the chest, a hand tap on the shoulder, slime dripping on your back, a bug crawling up your arm, and motorcycle vibrations. There are further refining parameters, like controlling the feeling of how fast that bug is crawling.
The researchers built three VR apps in testing the jacket, including a snow ball fight game, a simulator of a snake crawling around, and a simulation of “growing muscles” — like turning into the Hulk. They wrote:
“The overall system set-up is very bulky and confining for the user. Also, with the surround body effects that the wearable can achieve, a 360 degree virtual reality experience is possible; however, the user’s ability to rotate or move in the VR space is limited by the tubing that tethers them to the air and vacuum supply.”
The researchers believe with more development the jacket could be more viable in VR use.