Disney Research unveiled a new prototype wearable device designed to add a new layer of immersion to VR applications through haptic feedback. The device is called the Pneumatically-Actuated Jacket for Embodied Haptic Experiences - or the Force Jacket for short - and as the name suggests, it takes the form of a jacket featuring a haptic feedback system for the upper body, which relies on inflatable airbags coupled with force sensors and force control algorithms. The idea behind the Force Jacket is to provide on-body force feedback by applying different levels of pressure to the wearer’s arms and torso, in accordance with the events taking place in a virtual reality environment, and in turn to create more immersive experiences when playing VR games or watching VR movies.
The Force Jacket is currently in a prototype stage of development and this can be clearly seen in the video below shared by Disney Research, which shows not only the jacket itself but also the fairly sizeable hardware it requires in order to operate, including an air pump. The jacket is equipped with roughly two dozen airbags which can be inflated or deflated at varying levels independently, and they can also be actuated to provide vibration-based tactile feedback when needed. The software aims to match the events taking place in the VR space with the hardware, and the video demonstrates how a VR snake wrapping around the user’s body in the virtual world can translate into appropriate pressure and tactile feedback for the wearer’s upper body in the real world.
It’s unclear whether Disney Research wants the Force Jacket to become a consumer-grade product or something that can be used to improve, say, the (VR) movie-going experience. Either way, this isn’t the first time Disney has shown an interest in VR or other forms of interactive media, as back in 2016, the company adopted Nokia’s OZO camera for 360-degree and VR movie applications. In fact, going as far back as the mid-90s, Disney initially had the idea to create interactive movies using the MindDrive, which was more of an experimental "mind reading" product for PC users that flopped before Disney had the chance to put its concepts into practice on any significant scale. Evidently, technology greatly evolved over the past two decades and in theory, combining new virtual reality solutions with actual, physical feedback seems like a natural fit and perhaps an important step in the evolution of the VR segment as a whole.