A new force feedback jacket is now being tested by Philips Electronics, and it aims to help users feel their multimedia content in an entirely new way.
In today's gaming consoles, vibration technology in controllers has become commonplace without any extra investment. Through force feedback technology, video gamers can feel the force of an explosion, the jolt of a collision, and even the jolts of flight turbulence. Even some of the more popular PC joystick and gamepad peripherals offered force feedback, and a variety of game related seats and sofas began hitting shelves with subwoofers built right in to stimulate with sound.
Unlike most force feedback technology on the market today however, the jacket developed by Philips Electronic is built around a series of physical actuators to affect the user, instead of sound or motion based vibration. Sixty-four independently controlled actuators are distributed throughout the jacket, from the torso down to the arms. The sixty-four actuators are paired in arrays of four and linked via a serial bus, with each array sharing its own microprocessor. Surprisingly, the power needs of the jacket are small. Just two AA batteries can power the jacket for one full hour, even if twenty of the actuators were triggered continuously.
Even more impressive is the actual rate in which the actuators can be triggered. Each actuator is capable of being cycled on and off at a rate of 100 times per second. While the bulk of the actuators are centered around the torso, the arms still receive sufficient stimulation with its eight actuators per sleeve. By using four actuators in the front and four in the back of each sleeve, the sensation of an arm being touched or tapped in several different spots is achieved through a phenomenon called the "cutaneous rabbit illusion."
The technology behind the jacket was revealed by Philips at the IEEE-sponsored 2009 World Haptics Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. According to Philips senior scientist Paul Lemmens, “People don’t realize how sensitive we are to touch, although it is the first sense that fetuses develop in the womb."
As an example of the technology put to use, Jensen later continues "We want people to feel Bruce Lee’s anxiety about whether he will get out alive, causing a shiver to go up the viewer’s spine and creating the feeling of tension in the limbs." Even sensations such as a pulsing on the chest would be created by the jacket to imitate an elevated heartbeat. The aim according to Lemmens is to investigate emotional immersion in multimedia most of all. Whether signals are pre-encoded within a DVD, or are sent real-time via an application, the feedback desired can be achieved in several different ways.
According to Jensen, there are no plans currently to develop a set of pants to accompany the jacket, however the potential applications for the technology are limitless.
Certainly interesting in concept, we definitely look forward to seeing this technology in action in not just movie based applications, but also in games.