Virtual reality is a lot of fun, but at a given moment you miss something of feeling. If you’ve seen Ready Player One, you know what the dream is: to be in a virtual world where you can also feel everything that happens, or at least feel as much as you want. There are different parties working on that technology, but that is still going slowly. Disney Research is also working on it and their Force Jacket is a prototype that is promising.
Most systems that use haptic feedback (meaning physical feedback) work with engines similar to the rumble engines found in game controllers like the Nintendo Switch. These are then put in gloves, boots or even in full-body suits and so you get the right feedback for what you do or are done to you.
So the Force Jacket does not do this: there are some sort of bags sewn in them that can be inflated and emptied and so can simulate the pressure you feel when you do something in VR. Because the pouches can be inflated with different speed and intensity, you can imitate a whole range of sensations: slow inflation feels like a hug, quickly feels like a blow.
The system was tested by having a dozen users wear the ‘jacket’ and thereby playing a number of VR apps. With the support of what the subjects could see, there was an amazing number of specific feelings that could be simulated: being tapped on the shoulder, critters crawling up your arm, a snowball that hits you in the chest and even a snake around you your body moves. The suit does not look like that – it is only a prototype of course – but the results are more than convincing.
Not at home
This sounds good, but the biggest problem with the Disney setup is that it does not work without an air compressor and vacuum pump connected to the suit. That makes it less than ideal to use a similar system at home, but of course it offers opportunities for special trips in future Disneyland parks. It may not be a coincidence that the term ‘Force’ is in the name of the suit, because who knows we are just looking at one of the new Star Wars attractions where in a few years can enjoy!