Disney's force jacket

Disney ‘Force Jacket’ creates sensation of being hugged, punched… or swole

Image credit: Disney Research

Disney Research has designed an actuated jacket – the ‘Force Jacket’ – which applies forces to give the wearer various sensations, such as an animal climbing over their upper body.

The team behind the jacket believes that it could be used with VR headsets to create a more immersive experience, with action matching the sensations produced by the jacket. This could “engage the full sensory system in ways that words, pictures or touch alone cannot,” the researchers suggest.

Basic haptic feedback has played a role in entertainment systems for years. For instance, many handheld game controllers use vibrations to represent the force of an in-game explosion or crash landing. However, the Force Jacket paves the way for wearable items which provide far more sophisticated sensory feedback.

“The creation of immersive virtual and augmented realities [VR and AR] relies on engaging all of the senses,” the researchers wrote. “Although the fields of visual effects and sound effects have long histories and a wide variety of technologies to contribute, the inclusion of haptic feedback in such experiences is an area of recent growth.”

“As VR and AR applications increasingly expand to full-body spatial experiences, tactile sensation must expand with them.”

Working with academics based at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Carnegie Mellon University, the Disney team built a jacket with an array of 26 pneumatically-actuated airbags and force sensors which direct vibrations and forces across the upper body with high precision. A ‘haptics effects editor’ can be used to control the location, force, speed and duration of these forces.

During initial testing with participants, the Disney researchers were able to create 14 different sensations using the Force Jacket, including being hit by a snowball, slime dripping on the wearer’s back, being punched, being hugged, being slithered on by a friendly snake and suddenly physically acquiring a bodybuilder physique (the swollen aspect). These sensations were delivered along with VR films reflecting the sensations.

The Force Jacket could be described as an example of a 4D entertainment system: a system which goes beyond conventional 3D films and apps by offering other sensory stimulation, such as scent or touch. For instance, in February this year, US researchers presented a pair of goggles which give the wearer the sensation of being physically touched by passing objects.

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