Ever take a stroll around a nuclear submarine? What about get a robot to mirror your every move? Or play an entire game of golf indoors, without a controller? Kaaya Tech, creator of HoloSuit, a Kickstarter-fueled, full-body virtual reality (VR) suit, is making that all possible. I got a chance to try out the HoloSuit’s unique VR experience. With up to 36 embedded sensors and nine haptic feedback devices from head to toe, the HoloSuit has great potential to take VR from Ready Player One to Ready Player Fun and beyond.
HoloSuit unveiled two versions of its suit in late May on Kickstarter. It’s trying to take VR to the next level by extending the experience throughout the body with sensors and haptic feedback devices that send vibrations to your body when a VR application sees fit. While the haptic feedback won’t cause your body physical pain or knock you out of our seat, it does vibrate to signal your body of key experiences in VR, augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) apps, like touching something you can interact with or making an incorrect body movement.
The most premium version of the full HoloSuit has nine haptic feedback devices, 36 sensors and six firing buttons. It comes with a head extension, clavicle extension, foot extension (make your robot walk up the stairs) and gloves with added finger base sensors and costs $1,599, plus $50 for U.S. shipping on Kickstarter. The cheapest version has nine haptic feedback devices, 26 sensors and six buttons, includes the head and foot extensions and costs $999, plus $50 for U.S. shipping. It’s also surpassed its $50,000 Kickstarter goal (it’s almost at $65,000 as of this writing), so it’s more than fully funded. All prices listed are non-early-bird pricing.
Here’s what it’s like to wear Kaaya’s Holosuit:
I took the HoloSuit Jacket and HoloSuit Gloves for a trip to a virtual nuclear submarine, which the company is currently developing to use in military training. Putting on an HTC Vive headset transported me to the cartoonish interior of a submarine (I assume, I haven’t actually been inside a nuclear submarine before). While the app is still in development, I was able to spin around and take in the complex interior, filled with control panels, multi-colored buttons and levers.
I could interact with a lever, which activated the vibrations in my HoloSuit Glove. I used the glove to grasp my fingers around the lever and pull it down. Sometimes, though, my hand phased through the lever. This could have been due to the HoloSuit being slightly too big for me, but it did not stop me from being able to accurately push and pull the lever. I also used the gloves to repeatedly push three different buttons in the sub and felt my hands vibrate with each press, and a small amount of phasing occurred there as well.
There wasn’t much I could do in the submarine yet, the implications for further use and development for the military are apparent. You can watch a video showing the HoloSuit being used for submarine training below:
You don’t have to wear or own the entire suit to enjoy it. You can, indeed, buy an entire HoloSuit, which includes a jacket, pants, a pair of gloves, or a premium version, which includes all the above, plus a headband extension and extra shoulder and feet sensors. But you can also opt for just the jersey, just the pants, one glove or even a one-finger glove. This allows for VR solutions for those on a budget, or those who don’t want to fully invest in haptic feedback.
Let’s break down the suit piece by piece to see what each component offers.
For my first HoloSuit experience, I tried on the HoloSuit Jacket, which I tightened to my frame with Velcro. The magic of Velcro also makes it easy to remove the sensor array, which means if you work up a sweat you can detach the sensors and wash it just like any other garment. The long-sleeved, black tunic felt like a light, spring nylon jacket and even had a collar to pop and spice up your XR look. While calibrating, the jacket’s four haptic feedback devices (one on each elbow, another by my heart and a fourth by the center of my spine) sent vibrations throughout my arms and torso so I felt like I was in a portable massage chair.
And with that, I had total control of a virtual avatar’s upper body on a PC. To control the avatar, the HoloSuit Jacket used a total of eight sensors (one on each elbow and wrist, one on the back of each shoulder, one at the center of the spine and one at the spine base) and two firing buttons on the garment. I noticed my avatar’s right arm was neurotically twitching when at rest. I was told this was because the jacket was a little big for me but that smaller sizes are available.
I tried out the HoloSuit’s yoga app, which allows users to store poses and play them back; if you do the pose wrong, the suit will vibrate on the misaligned body part to alert you. This means that the sensors have to be perfectly aligned, and I was pleased to see this was the case, despite my mild arm issue. As usual, I skipped the workout and instead did a little dancing. My avatar was right there with me making the perfect partner, from the Hustle, to the Batusi, to the Macarena and any other awkward dance moves I could muster.
So what else could you do with this (besides embarrass yourself with bad dancing)? The HoloSuit Jacket can help you track your golf stroke and other upper-body-heavy physical activities, like martial arts. You could also control a robot with a HoloSuit jacket and get it to do things like lift objects or add another dancer to the party.
The HoloSuit Jacket is currently available on Kickstarter until July 30 for $399, plus $50 for U.S. shipping. For the same price, you can instead pick the HoloSuit Jersey, which has a sportier look.
You can also bring good vibrations to your lower half with the HoloSuit Pants, although I didn’t get to try these out. The pants also come in black or jersey style. Targeting athletes like bikers and runners, the pants are equipped with three haptic feedback devices (one on the front of each thigh and in the middle of the lower back) and seven sensors (one of the front of each thigh, one on each calf, one on the lower back and one by the toes of each foot).
With VR pants, you’ll have a literal leg up when using it with HoloSuit’s yoga app, and there are also implications for training in martial arts, soccer and apps for other activities, if and when they’re developed. HoloSuit says fitness trainers could use the suit to observe and correct students moving in the same virtual space “by interacting with their avatars through haptic exciters.” Of course, dance moves get even sweeter. And moving a robot is also more fun since you’ll get control of its lower half.
The HoloSuit Pants (in black or jersey) currently costs $399, plus $50 for U.S. shipping on Kickstarter.
While I didn’t get the chance to get into the HoloSuit pants, I did get my hands on the HoloSuit five-finger gloves. Of course, with one haptic feedback device per glove (located on the front center of the hand), the glove also vibrates when you touch interactive items or when an app wants you to do something with your hands. Think of a video game controller vibrating when you crash in Mario Kart or are taking a nerve-wracking foul shot in NBA 2K18. The glove felt just like that when vibrating, so no major progressions there. However, your hands are freer than if you were using a VR or gamepad controller, so you’re not stuck clutching a piece of plastic in order to experience the game at your fingertips.
Once you get your hands into the VR realm, HoloSuit offers a VR piano application to hone your skills. The gloves vibrate when you hit the wrong key, which is way more lenient than the piano wired to shock students who play the wrong key that Stewie used in Family Guy. Most importantly, the gloves allow your hands to do natural movements in the VR world, which is less feasible with today’s controllers.
HoloSuit’s five-finger gloves are $249, plus $50 for U.S. shipping on Kickstarter, but you’ll probably want two. They also offer a one-finger glove that has one haptic feedback device and can track your hand and index finger with two sensors. This costs $99, plus $50 for U.S. shipping.
HoloSuit is banking on its product bridging the gap between XR and simplicity by making its product device-agnostic. One of Kaaya’s biggest claims is that HoloSuit is compatible with any VR/AR/MR device that’s connected to WiFi. It works with Windows, Android, iOS and two game engines (platforms for building games quickly without needing to work from the ground up), Unity and Unreal Engine 4.
When HoloSuit debuted the suit in late May, HoloSuit CEO Harsha Kikkeri called the controller the “Achilles heel” of MR thanks to burdensome and clunky handheld devices for tracking hand movements. In addition to working with any VR headset, the HoloSuit can also work with a VR controller, mouse, keyboard, video game controller, fitness tracker or posture trainer.
After demoing the HoloSuit it’s clear that it has potential to deliver VR experiences unlike any other. For consumers, there’s opportunity to use VR to not just play, but to learn, be it in sports, music or games.
On the enterprise level, the HoloSuit is already making a notable name for itself. Current (unnamed) business partners include a U.S. VR/AR solution provider, a Canadian VR arcade, a UK doctor, a German healthcare provider, a Spanish entrepreneur and four IT firms in India.
Looking toward the future, neurosurgeons are trying to use the HoloSuit “to help their patients understand their movement limitations and retrain their minds,” according to HoloSuit’s Kickstarter page. Kikkeh told me he’s seen the HoloSuit encourage a boy with limited motion to work on improving his movement using the HoloSuit, driven by desire to make a robot move. Hollywood and Bollywood are both playing with the HoloSuit, as is a former cricket coach hoping to make a virtual cricket academy.
Factories are looking into the HoloSuit as a training method for dangerous and expensive equipment. Bomb removal is on the table, as is cutting the cost of motion capture in sports. People are also exploring use cases in natural disaster response and architecture.
While the HoloSuit is still in the Kickstarter stage, its efforts point to a brighter and broader future for VR, MR and AR that could extend the technologies into the lives of even the non-technical. The company currently has two patents approved and four pending.
Whether or not the HoloSuit finds success in the consumer market is to be determined, but with this advancement in VR technology we can gain confidence that XR is on its way to greater function and accessibility.
MORE: Virtual Reality Basics