The ‘Force Jacket’ could be the key to taking theme parks to the next level.
Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be in the grips of a monstrous snake as it squeezes out every ounce of breath? It probably isn’t pleasant. But thanks to a collaboration between Disney Research, MIT Media Lab, and Carnegie Mellon University, you could one day physically experience this in VR.
Enter what Disney is calling the “Force Jacket,” an experimental research project that lets users feel touching, squeezing, punching, hugging and of course a snake across your body.
To create this layer of physical feedback while in VR, the designers combined a series of high frequency sensors along with 26 inflatable air compartments, and strategically placed them throughout the special jacket. Each sensor and inflatable are then activated individually—or together—in multiple configurations to create different intensities of vibrations and precisely directed force that brings the full-body sensation to life.
VR is designed to give you a full sensory experience that hacks your brain into thinking what you’re actually seeing is real. You can get an emotional response in VR, where you experience fear and anxiety, but unfortunately, true physical feedback always falls short when it comes to selling you a full immserive experience.
In a recently published Disney Research post, the team writes that “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.”
There’s been a lot of work to close the gap between what is real and what isn’t during a VR experience. Advancements in wearables such as gloves that let you feel virtual art, to the idea of “virtual skin,” are things that show a lot of improvement in haptics, but still fall short from perfection.
In an interview with VRScout, Alex Chaucer, co-founder of The Virtual Reality Podcast said, “Adding additional senses to virtual reality, in addition to sight and sound, will continue to build the immersiveness of experiences,” continuing, “I’d say we’re a few iterations away from full body haptic feedback, but it’s a natural progression for the medium.”
To explore the possibilities of the Force Jacket, the design team created three specific VR experiences:
- Snowball Fight, where you would feel the impact of a snowball.
- Snake-crawling, where you would feel a snake coiling around your torso and chest.
- Muscles-Growing, you would feel the sensation of bulking up instantly like The Hulk.
For Disney, the Force Jacket could offer more than snakes, snowballs and muscles. Imagine if location-based entertainment experiences like Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire could be if there was more realistic physical feedback, or better yet, imagine being able to hug your loved ones from the other side of the globe and actually feel it.
Or maybe you just want to throw snowballs and snakes at each other in VR, which actually sounds like a lot of fun as well.
Image Credit: Disney