Can you feel The Force?
You might soon be able to actually feel full-body physical sensations in conjunction with virtual-reality or augmented-reality experiences, thanks to a new research project from Disney and researchers from MIT and MIT and Carnegie Mellon University.
The team developed a prototype for the wearable Force Jacket, which is designed to let someone experience physical sensations — like getting punched, hugged, or, in a somewhat unsettling VR application the researchers created, feeling a “snake moving across the body.”
The Force Jacket uses an array of 26 pneumatically-actuated airbags and force sensors to provide precisely directed force and high-frequency vibrations to the wearer’s upper body. The Disney Research-led team noted that existing haptic-feedback technologies largely have been limited to vibrations, like smartphones buzzing in your hand.
“As VR and AR applications increasingly expand to full-body, spatial experiences, tactile sensation must expand with them,” the researchers write in an abstract about the project. “Even in the real world, very few experiences are conveyed by vibration alone.”
The researchers created three different prototype VR applications to test with the Force Jacket: a snowball flight application, in which people participated in a snowball fight with a virtual character where they could throw snowballs and feel the impact of a snowball via haptic cues; the aforementioned snake-crawling-around-your-torso-and-chest experience; and a VR application that used Kinect and Vive controllers to dynamically change the haptic feedback according to users’ actions and “explore the effects of changing the perceived muscularity of the body.”
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“Beyond our prototype applications, the jacket also has a strong potential for remote communication applications, like a hug delivered from afar,” the researchers write.
Other recent Disney Research projects have included Magic Bench, a mixed-reality system that lets multiple users interact with animated characters and other CGI elements together with headsets or handheld devices, and Project Cardinal, designed to turn natural-language scripts into VR pre-visualizations.
Watch a video describing Disney’s Force Jacket: