We experience the world through our senses. Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. A problem with any one of them and you need help – a pair of glasses for instance. Or even a hearing aid. Well, we’re about to enter a new world of sense technology aided by Virtual Reality.
The sense of touch doesn’t really get the attention that the other senses get like sight and sound and yet it’s incredibly sophisticated. It enables us to tell between wet and dry, hard and soft, it gives us pleasure and pain – so could we create a second skin which creates sensations through electrical impulses? Well I’m about to find out.
I’ve arranged to meet the people behind a Tesla Suit. It looks like a wet suit but enables users to interact with the virtual environment and actually “feel” what’s going on inside a computer. It’s been designed by a group from Belarus who are now based in the UK.
The Tesla Suit uses something called haptic feedback – which is the mechanical stimulation to recreate the sense of touch and mimic sensations we experience in the real world so that we can feel them in the virtual world. At present the technology is, in the main, being advanced by the gaming industry, but there are potentially other far-reaching applications.
Before we started filming, there was much talk of my chest measurements and arm lengths so the team could ensure the suit fitted. I was under the impression there might be a range of them for me to try. As it turned out – there was only one. It was so tight it took three men to push me into it and do it up. Amazingly, once inside, I was so held together by the rubber – it did make me look rather buff – definitely worth the pain of forcing myself into it.
Dimitree Marozau is one of the founders of the Tesla Studios. He says it’s taken three years to create the suit and he let me put it through its paces.
I put on some virtual reality glasses and started a shooting video game. The different was that when my character in the game was shot, I actually felt a pain in my real body – delivered by the suit I was wearing.
It works – you don’t like being shot in the virtual world – because it delivers real pain in the real world.
But it’s not just for gamers. Dimnitri says it could deliver a virtual hug to you from your family – if you are abroad. He demonstrated by hugging the empty space in front of me – saying I would now feel a real hug through my suit.
In reality I just felt lots of small electric shocks. It wasn’t like any hug I’ve ever had. But the fact that it works at all is a small miracle.
The company says that the technology is just opening up a range of possibilities. Dimitri says “Our vision was to send it over to space, because muscular atrophy is the biggest problem in space because people are not working out as much or they have to forcefully work out. Electrical signals conveyed by the smart fabric could be used to make the muscles of astronauts contract, compensating for the lack of gravity, and giving them a work out.”
There is research going on at the moment with people who have strokes. The recovery process involves electrical stimulation in certain parts to help the muscles to regain their memory, how they work, and to stimulate different parts of the body. And probably this one could take it to a next level.
This sensory technology may have started in the world of gaming but it’s already slowly moving into the world of medicine. Now that kind of science really does have the possibility to change the world and our experience of it.