What would it feel like to be instantly jacked with muscles like the Hulk? Thanks to Disney Research, we can finally find out. In conjunction with Carnegie Mellon and MIT Media Lab, Disney’s research arm has developed a jacket that simulates various sensations across your torso, from the rapid infusion of musculature, to bugs and snakes crawling across your skin. (Um . . . we’ll stick with the muscles.)
Called the Force Jacket, it’s a meshy vest loaded with 26 little airbags that can inflate and even vibrate at highly controllable speeds and sequences, in response to the prompts of software, like a VR simulation. The implications are clear for VR: In their paper, the researchers demonstrate that the jacket is capable of mimicking tactile experiences like heavy rain dropping on your skin, slime oozing down your back, a bug crawling up your arm, a running motorcycle vibrating into your body, or an accelerated heartbeat thumping in your chest–even a child’s hug.
As you might expect, subjects found the sensations convincing, but they didn’t necessarily always enjoy them. A punch in the side felt fairly realistic, but only one of 14 testers reported liking it. Similarly, people didn’t like being hit with snowballs much, either. But with the bad comes the good: Subjects seemed to enjoy rapid muscle growth and hugs from children, because who wouldn’t love that stuff?
It makes for an interesting thought experiment. Would you buy a device that promised to make you feel things that were often quite unpleasant? I’m not so sure. But the Force Jacket seems pretty far from production, either. Researchers note that the jacket, and the accompanying compressor system, are both quite bulky. It’s loud, too. And the design of the bags and pump themselves would have to become far more complex to allow you to feel several disparate sensations at the same time. It’s enough to make you realize that, for however great consumer VR headsets will get in the next few years, we probably have a long, long way to go before the virtual world feels as good as it looks.