Once upon a time VR was a fanciful future vision that existed only in films and gamers’ imaginations. Nowadays, however, Virtual Reality has come to life and is a very real gaming phenomenon thanks to the likes of VR headsets like Oculus Rift. VR’s sister, Augmented Reality (AR), is something more people are familiar with, especially since the launch of the iconic game Pokémon Go in 2016.
VR headsets might seem like a relatively new concept, but the first was actually created during the 1960s! One of the first VR headsets to be made by a game publisher was a VR headset called Sega VR. Unfortunately, this headset never made it to the shops. Sega explained the lack of a launch on the fact that they were worried people would hurt themselves while using the headset!
So, with headsets already becoming more mainstream, what’s next for VR? Let’s take a look at the Teslasuit.
Usually, a gamer’s VR experience is through the use of a headset and perhaps handheld accessories. But now a London-based company has created a new VR experience – the Teslasuit, which promises to incorporate the player’s whole body into the gaming experience.
Unlike other haptic suits, the Teslasuit doesn’t use vibrating motors to stimulate touch sensations. Instead, it uses advances in electricity to deliver a variety of amperage to the body, which is designed to make a lasting impression.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t something to be worn over clothing. The Teslasuit is designed to be in contact with the player’s skin so that the 80 independent channels across the suit can deliver electrical stimulation effectively.
Wearing the Teslasuit, you look like you belong in a film! The suit is constructed with layers of waterproof neoprene. The textiles are woven using conductive thread so that the suit is washable as well as completely waterproof.
It uses an electro-tactile haptic feedback system, which means that you really feel you are inside the game. Since it covers the entire body, the player feels a wide variety of sensations, from strokes to hard impacts. Don’t worry, the hard impacts won’t cause tissue damage or pain, as they are limited to the gamer’s own strength.
The most important part of the getup is the T-belt. This is similar to a standard belt, but works like a giant activity tracker for the suit. This is what monitors the motion, climate and haptic feedback.
The suit has a whole host of technology inside, including galvanic response sensors that capture all the player’s vital statistics, including an ECG (electrocardiogram). The haptics inside the suit use both NMES (neuromuscular electrical stimulation) and TENS (transcutaneous electrical neural stimulation). TENS might sound more familiar to you because of its usage in pain relief.
Before a player can use the suit, it needs to be calibrated. The player goes through a process that tests the levels of electro-stimulation they can handle. There are conductive sites that are placed on the player’s forearms, arms, back, shoulders, chest, and on the front and back of each leg.
The sensations range from a gentle, tickly feeling, right up to larger jolts. It’s worth saying though, that these aren’t painful, but are reported to certainly be attention-grabbing. It’s not something that is punitive (although the gunshots, explosions and ersatz punches are astounding), but it creates all sorts of sensations, including replication of rainfall or water splashes.
The integrated system of biometrics inside the Teslasuit means that real-time data can be gathered. This includes key health indicators as well as stress levels and emotional states. Measuring such data makes the VR experience much more personalised for the user and can relay degradation or improvement over time.
As you would expect, the Teslasuit is pretty pricey. You’re going to be paying upward of £1000 for a basic model and upward of £2000 for a better spec. Obviously, for your average gamer, these prices are unreachable. Perhaps in time, we can hope for a price decrease!
Currently, the Teslasuit website doesn’t give you any idea of pricing but there is the option to contact the company. At this stage, the suit is probably being aimed at game developers so they can come up with collaborations.
Imagine how gameplay would feel in a game like Skyrim with different climates and a tactile experience? The Teslasuit would apparently give you the sensation of enemy attacks – not that you would get hurt but you’d certainly get a different sort of feedback from your gaming experience than you would from just a handheld controller.
Gaming-aside, the Teslasuit has the potential to be used across various sectors, for example, in combat training, or in medical rehabilitation where feedback is essential to restore mobility. If you’re going to need to train someone to carry out an act that could be very dangerous, this suit has great potential. The mild electrocution gives the wearer enough feedback to keep them on their toes while learning through virtual reality. The Teslasuit offers much more than a scenario simulation. The suit means that users will have better recall and skill transfer, so for trainee police officers or trainee firefighters it has great potential, as trainees do not have to put themselves into real situations where harm can occur.
Teslasuit is working on a Teslasuit Glove that is set to make huge leaps in the world of Virtual Reality, created to make the VR experience all the more realistic. Unlike the somewhat cumbersome Teslasuit, the Glove is really portable and compact. It won’t weigh the user down and can be transported easily. Apparently, it weighs around 300g, which is not much more than an Apple iPhone 11 Pro.
Just like the Teslasuit, the Glove will allow the wearer to feel tactile sensations in the VR world. The Glove will detect the wearer’s movements and use them to control how accurate movements are in the game. It is designed for an even more immersed VR experience and has a very realistic effect. Users can feel vibrations and textures. Imagine touching a wall in your videogame and feeling bare brick on your fingertips!
This glove is somewhat unique. Its encoders allow its driftless motion capture system (Mocap) to monitor how the palm turns by using an IMU sensor. The fingers have resistive bending sensors, which are much more advanced than the original bending sensors that tend to degrade much more quickly. With both the suit and the glove combined, a gamer will really have a new VR experience.
As well as being a potential game-changer for VR gaming, the Glove, like the Teslasuit, can also be used across different sectors. Examples of use include enterprise training - looking at how humans interact with mechanisms, aggregates or machines; medical rehabilitation (eg. after a stroke); and planning robotic-lead activities (eg. hazardous tasks).
Teslasuit’s potential is phenomenal and it is clearly targeting industries like enterprise training, physical rehabilitation, athletics and public safety. The technology used is cutting edge and any gamers looking for a new VR experience would certainly be excited by the prospect of owning such an accessory.
The cost (or estimated cost), however, could be seen as a con for the average Joe gamer who wants to try a new VR experience. Another downside is how cumbersome the suit will be to put on and take off. Given that it’s designed to be worn alone for maximum feedback, it means a whole outfit change before you even begin to play. Let’s not underestimate gamers’ love for coming home, throwing off their shoes and getting down to play. The suit makes getting ready to play a game much more effort. Also, it’s going to need regular washing! It’s a tight-fitting suit that will get sweaty very quickly, especially since it sticks to the skin. Finally, the suit isn’t a one-size-fits-all affair - if you’re thinking of sharing this with a housemate, you might want to reconsider.
It is clear that Virtual Reality gaming is here to stay and is becoming a very exciting prospect indeed, and the Teslasuit certainly has the potential to completely change the gaming experience. The company certainly seems to be onto something – they already have more than 150 employees and will be hiring another 50 soon, suggesting that people (game developers, trainers, entrepreneurs) must be showing a huge interest in Teslasuit’s technological potential.
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