Disney and MIT made a jacket that mimics feeling of snakes slithering on you

As amazing as VR headsets are, haptic technology offers a way to make virtual reality seem even more real. With that in mind, investigators from Disney Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, and Carnegie Mellon University need to step forward and take a bow for their new proof-of-concept “Force Jacket.”

Resembling a life vest, the jacket is lined with airbags which can either inflate or deflate on command. By doing this, it is possible to accurately mimic sensations including (but not limited to) racing heartbeats, a tap on the shoulder, the impact of a snowball, the vibrations of a motorbike, or slime dripping down a person’s back. In other words, this is probably not the best jacket to wear to your next high pressure job interview!

“Force Jacket can enrich narrative embodied experiences — [such as] VR or AR — by providing variable force feedback on targeted locations on the upper body,” Ken Nakagaki, a Ph.D. candidate in the Tangible Media Group at MIT Media Lab, told Digital Trends. “The Force Jacket can create variety of haptic effects such as a hug, punch, or even a snake slithering around your body. [It] consists of 26 inflatable airbags, with force-sensitive registers placed on individual bags for tracking the force applied to the body as the bags [are] being inflated and deflated. Studies in our paper include development of a software ‘Haptic Effect Editor’ to design hundreds of haptic effects with the jacket, and a user study which evaluated 14 haptic effects generated by the software.”

With Disney involved, we wouldn’t be surprised to find the jacket incorporated into one or more of its theme park experiences. However, Nakagaki speculated that, in addition to VR, the technology could also be useful for rehabilitation or training, or to help blind or partially sighted people navigate better by conveying spatial information around the body via haptic feedback.

In the future, the team hopes to make the jacket more compact and mobile while improving the haptic technology. “As it is exciting to imagine what other haptic effects can be created with this type of jacket, I think another future work could be letting other people use our Haptic Effect Editor to expand the library of haptic effects,” Nakagaki said.

A paper describing the work is available to read online. It will be presented at the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems later this year.