At the just-completed World Haptics Conference in Salt Lake City, scientists at Philips Electronics unleashed a jacket lined with an array of small motors designed to react to events its wearer is watching unfold on a movie screen–not in such a way as to mimic physical goings-on, but so as to increase empathy with the actors.
The jacket contains 64 independently controlled actuators distributed across the arms and torso. The actuators are arrayed in 16 groups of four and linked along a serial bus; each group shares a microprocessor. The actuators draw so little current that the jacket could operate for an hour on its two AA batteries even if the system was continuously driving 20 of the motors simultaneously.
So what can the jacket make you feel? Can it cause a viewer to feel a blow to the ribs as he watches Bruce Lee take on a dozen thugs? No, says Lemmens. Although the garment can simulate outside forces, translating kicks and punches is not what the actuators are meant to do. The aim, he says, is investigating emotional immersion.
“We want people to feel Bruce Lee’s anxiety about whether he will get out alive,” says the Philips researcher. The jacket, responding to signals encoded in the DVD or to a program designed to control the jacket on the fly, can do a host of things, such as “causing a shiver to go up the viewer’s spine and creating the feeling of tension in the limbs.” During the fight scene, says Lemmens, the jacket will even create a pulsing on the wearer’s chest to simulate the kung fu master’s elevated heartbeat.
The makers say they have no plans to make a matching pair of pants. I’m sure adult-film theater owners everywhere are disappointed.