Forget virtual reality headsets – a group of engineers has constructed an entire suit that will not only enable wearers to enter and experience virtual reality, but will allow them to actually interact with and “touch” these virtual environments in a more natural and realistic manner. At the University of Rochester, students Lucian Copeland, Morgan Sinko and Jordan Brooks have designed a full-blown suit that resembles body armor or a bulletproof vest (or the foundation of a super cool DIY Batman suit) with built-in motors that vibrate to signal sensations that enable wearers to feel like they’re touching things in a virtual environment.
Powered by vibrations, the suit will provide a sense of touch when a virtual object makes contact with a part of the suit, activating the internal sensors while accelerometers will orient the rest of the suit and wearer in the actual physical space of the virtual environment. By combining these accelerometers with a motion-tracking system (currently the suit connects with Microsoft Kinect), it will completely orient the suit’s wearer in a virtual environment, even if they’re out of camera, based on data and calculations the two programs generate.
All of that information will coalesce to facilitate one of the most realistic virtual environments someone can experience, not only transmitting visual and audio cues present in all VR technologies, but sensory cues as well. Anything from a virtual wall or rock can be created, visualized and felt with the suit, allowing users to traverse their virtual environment more effectively and realistically. The sensation of touch may not seem super necessary, but the suit’s sensors will let wearers feel things in their environment and avoid running into objects. Additionally, touch sensors could help alleviate the nausea and motion sickness VR causes in some because it will better orient a user in their environment and match what they perceive in virtual reality with how their bodies are reacting in the physical world.
When to expect such a virtual reality suit to be available to everyday consumers is another matter entirely. While Copeland, Sinko and Brooks founded their own VR company, Nullspace, to start garnering funding for their virtual reality suit, they’re still a ways off from mass-producing it. An entire suit also might be a hard sell for your more casual consumer, and could even come off as a gimmick for virtual reality aficionados. Still, the suit definitely stands out by actively working to incorporate all of a person’s senses into a virtual experience. After all, isn’t the point of virtual reality to create something fantastical while grounding it and the way it’s experienced in realism?