Ah virtual reality--it never seems to go out of fashion. And now electronics giant Philips weighs in with its prototype "enhanced reality" clothing--a jacket jam-packed with haptic feedback devices that's designed to enhance your movie watching experience.
The device aims to boost your emotional involvement with a film rather than physically replicating the sensations of "being in the action." As Paul Lemmens, a senior scientist at Philips puts it "People don’t realize how sensitive we are to touch, although it is the first sense that fetuses develop in the womb." Touch sensations are wired right into some of our subconscious emotional responses, which is exactly what the new jacket works with.
Inside it has 64 vibrating actuators, each controllable over a serial bus and driven by dedicated electronics. Surprisingly they draw such a low current that the entire jacket could work for over an hour on just the juice from two AA batteries. Each actuator has a cycle time of 0.01 seconds, allowing for some extremely precise haptic feedback options to the user, and the units are carefully distributed across the body so they deliver maximum sensation. Though the arm-based actuators are spaced pretty widely, this is so they can make use of the "cutaneous rabbit illusion" in which your brain is fooled into sensing activity in between the actuators.
Of course such tiny motors aren't going to make you feel the squeeze of the Hulk's embrace, the impact of a nearby explosion in Die Hard or an elaborate martial-arts kick to the chest from Jet Li. But combined with the right signals from a smart box connected to the movie-playing hardware they can deliver sensations that send a literal shiver up and down your spine, give you that creepy "tickle on the back of the neck" feeling, or simulate tension in your limbs during dramatic moments. And in the most emotional scenes, the system could simulate a heartbeat pounding on your chest, possibly with the result of elevating your own pulse.
The jacket works under the same next-gen virtual- or enhanced-reality premise as the all-senses VR helmet we showed you the other day, but in this case it's a much simpler technology to package into a real product. And though this is just a research demonstrator unit, it's not hard to imagine a near-future cinema where the system's productized and you get to rent a wireless haptic jacket with your entry ticket. Horror movies may soon become a lot more intense.
[via Spectrum IEEE]