Tactile Gaming Vest Punches and Slices

“Ouch! That hurt!”

So exclaimed one user of the University of Pennsylvania’s Tactile Gaming Vest (TGV) during yesterday’s demos at the IEEE Haptics Symposium, in Waltham, Mass.

As conference participants steered their character in a shoot-em-up computer video game based on Half-Life 2, the vest variously smacked them and vibrated as they themselves got shot. Sometimes it smarted, depending on how tight the vest was on the user, or if the “shots” hit right on the collar bone. For me it was more like a series of surprise punches.

Four solenoid actuators in the chest and shoulders in front, plus two solenoids in the back, give you the feeling of a gunshot, says Saurabh Palan, a graduate student who works on the project. In addition, vibrating eccentric-mass motors clustered against the shoulder blades make you feel a slashing effect as you get stabbed from behind. Currently there is no feedback from your own weapons as you fire, just from weapons aimed at you. 

The solenoids and shoulder vibrators are controlled by custom electronics and linked to the game, so if your character gets shot from a certain direction, the appropriate solenoid “fires.” That makes it better than, say, laser tag, which makes your whole vest vibrate but doesn’t give you a hint as to where the shot came from. In that sense, then, the gaming vest is closer to a paintball excursion, but it doesn’t hurt as much (and there’s no messy paint to clean up afterwards).

Other tactile vests adorn the research sphere, but this one uses solenoids for their fast response, Palan explains. A similar vest, using pneumatics, has a slower response time, he says. Plus, it requires a huge air tank that sits next to you on the table, which makes a lot of noise and can be annoying, he adds.

Palan says this kind of device could be helpful for training military teams, in addition to making video gaming more immersive. Or it could make movies like Avatar even more enjoyable to watch, because you get physical feedback in addition to the 3D image experience.

It could also be fun for straight up action thrillers like Die Hard. If this kind of vest could be linked to the movie while you watch it, Palan says, the experience would be that much more exciting. “You could feel like you’re in the role,” he says. “So every time Bruce Willis gets shot, you feel it.”

Yippee ki yay.

Photos: (Top) Conference participant plays the game. (Bottom) Vest with solenoid actuators (courtesy of Saurabh Palan).

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