The virtual reality suit is a wearable device that allows one to dive into a virtual reality world. Such a suit isolates the human body from the external world.
The key systems of a low line VR suit are a sensory-based system (haptic or tactile feedback), motion capture and climate-control systems. Optionally virtual reality suit can include gloves with a sensory system and motion capture, shoes with the same options, odor and taste transfer and, moreover, a full-fledged exoskeleton with hydraulic and servomechanisms.
History of the virtual reality suit
The history of suits for gaming and virtual reality dates back to the 1990s.
In 1994 Aura Systems Inc. launched the production of the Interactor Vest Suit with force feedback, which was able to transform audio signals into vibrations, using electromagnetic transducer. A user wearing such a suit could feel a virtual kick or punch while playing. More than 400 000 of such suits were sold at 99$ for an item.
In spite of the success of the Interactor Vest Suit, no other product that was capable to immerse a person into VR appeared on the market in the next 13 years up to 2007.
In March 2007, TN Games presented Force Wear Vest at the GDC in San-Francisco. The name of the vest was changed into “3RD Space Vest” in November of the same year. About 50 games including Call of Duty, Unreal Tournament 3, Half-Life 2 were compatible with the suit through the software, which was quite advanced in those days.
The Tactile Gaming Vest Suit was developed at Pennsylvania University in 2010. It allows feeling bullet hits, blood flow and even cuts from different types of bladed weapons. The developers claim that different pushes and temperature effects can be simulated by the suit.
In the last 4 years, there has been an expansive growth of such projects as well as the rapid VR development.
The bulk of the developments are mo-cap suits or suits with haptic feedback. The motion capture suits market is more advanced because of its simple and quick development cycle and market placing process. Haptic suits are much more difficult to create, they require a multidisciplinary interaction of a large number of specialists. Therefore, as a rule, the development and launch cycle estimates 2 to 5 years at the moment.
Haptic suits are mostly jackets and vests. Prevalently companies use force feedback and vibration to transfer senses. Some companies develop full-fledged virtual reality suits consisting of jackets and trousers.
VR suit configuration
This part of a virtual reality suit is responsible for transferring senses out of VR (e. g. from a game process or from tutorial applications).
The most common existing method is vibration. Vibrating motors are placed into the zones which are subjected to collision (interaction of a virtual object with a human body). The advantages of such a system are relatively low price and installation simplicity. The main drawbacks are high energy consumption, low accuracy of sense transferring and the infeasibility to imitate a wide range of senses.
Force feedback is as widespread as vibration. This option is difficult to develop and adjust. It has a number of limitations in terms of possible usage of the virtual reality suit, except a full-fledged exoskeleton type. Force feedback has one great advantage: it solves a problem of motion stop when a user comes across obstacles in VR. Neither vibration nor any other methods of transferring senses can do it.
Ultrasonic (ultrasound) feedback
Another way to transfer senses is ultrasound. Ultrasound waves give quite an accurate idea of a virtual object’s shape and texture. The disadvantages of this method are related to high energy consumption and, what is more important, the necessity of peripheral device for wave generation.
The fourth and, perhaps, the rarest way to transfer senses is electrical stimulation. There are several types of it: electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) and electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Taking into account that electrochemical reaction is the base of touch, and the nervous system is based on transferring electrical impulses, one can be sure that EMS together with TENS allows to tune a wide range of senses like a soft touch or a pointy object’s impact to a specific part of a body, or even raindrops. Unfortunately, chemical processes of haptic feedback are challenging to imitate. That’s why an electrical constituent entirely undertakes this task.
To solve the problem of transferring senses there are a number of substitute technological products on the market that use above mentioned ways. All of them allow to a different extent to feel collisions with virtual objects, as well as their shape, texture and even weight. Weight simulation through electrical stimulation was verified by independent scientific researches in Hasso-Plattner Institute
Motion capture system
Motion capture system, or mocap, is a technology which allows to accurately determine the position of a person in space, track the movements of the limbs, as well as the movements and turns of the fingers. This technology came into virtual reality from animation and film production.
There are several different types of such systems.
Inertial / gyroscopic system
The basis of such a system is a sensor circuit, consisting of inertial and gyroscopic sensors. This scheme enables tracking and transferring the movements and turns of a person to a virtual world. If necessary, these movements are recorded (for example, movements of swimmers or dancers), which can later become a benchmark for comparison in training platforms.
Optical tracking system
On the one hand, this kind of technology is far more accurate than inertial ones. But on the other, such systems are a lot more expensive. Usually, they consist of a set of optical cameras located along the perimeter of the room, where the person moves in the virtual reality suit.
It is a combination of inertial and optical tracking systems, which together allow calculating the most accurate coordinates of a VR-suit.
As one of the key VR suit systems, the motion capture system partially solves several problems:
- motion sickness, or nausea;
- the problem of virtual avatar: mo-cap gives the opportunity to see one’s avatar in VR, not just hands, as in most cases;
- coordinate the movements of several people who are in the same room or other location.
Climate control system
Climate control system is a temperature control technology in virtual reality suit.
A sensor that is responsible for raising and lowering the temperature is Peltier element. This element can vary the temperature within the 10-40 degrees range (Celsius). It is based on the principle of temperature difference while current is flowing through the element.
The advantages of the Peltier-based system are small dimensions, the absence of moving parts, gases and liquids. The key drawback is large power consumption. Therefore, a suit should be equipped with a powerful and capacious battery.
Virtual reality gloves are fully-featured gloves, which, as a rule, are equipped with a sensory-based system (haptic feedback) or motion capture system. The cases of embedding the temperature transfer system in VR gloves are very rare.
Considering the fact that the most convenient form of interaction in VR is touching artificial objects with hands, gloves are one of the key parts of VR-suit. They allow one to touch walls, weapons, water, even to feel non-existent or inaccessible in the real world objects.
Biometric system is a set of sensors that allow real-time monitoring. After that data may be analyzed and transmitted.
A set of sensors can include the following ones: temperature sensor, carbon electrodes (measure a whole range of parameters such as oxygen saturation, moisture and salinity of skin or detect possible contaminants), electromyograph, electrocardiograph and GPS system.
Such a system is not an obligatory part of a virtual reality suit, but it significantly extends its functionality. A huge amount of data coming from VR suit requires real time processing, so incoming data can be analyzed both on a cloud server, using artificial intelligence, and locally in the suit, by simple algorithms.
One of the advantages of real-time monitoring and processing is that such a system can track your health and warn you about dangerous symptoms and also automatically call the rapid response services, for example, an ambulance, if necessary.
Odor and taste transfer system
The sense of smell is one of the key human senses that helps a person feel the environment, for example, the delicious smell of food.
There are scientific proofs that even completely identical environmental conditions may vary for each individual. The same is true for smells and tastes. The taste of virtual food, as well as its smell will vary for different people.
Along with the transfer of taste-quality information, the olfactory system’s simulation in VR is a system that is hard to implement. As a result, it is unaffordable for most users.
As early as 2015 the company “FeelReal” presented a prototype mask that allows simulating a combination of different smells, which are made up of 6 different ingredients.
The researchers at the National University of Singapore are experimenting with a device that allows sensing taste. This appliance allows imitating the presence of food in the mouth when it is actually not there. Besides, it gives the possibility to simulate mastication effect due to the electrostimulation of the jaw.
An exoskeleton is an appliance that is aimed to boost a person’s muscle power and to expand the amplitude of movements due to a frame, that is often mechanical.
The main function of the exoskeleton as one of the virtual reality suit systems is simulating walking and power feedback to prevent passing through a virtual object. The exoskeleton is more complicated and more expensive to operate in comparison with separate devices for walking in virtual reality (VR treadmills).
At the moment only a few companies on the market are developing exoskeletons for a full immersion in VR.
Virtual reality suit for game industry
The rapid growth of the virtual reality industry and related technologies gives a tremendous impetus to the development of other, seemingly unrelated industries.
One of the areas where virtual reality brings more added value is the game industry. The game market is growing by 5.4% annually. The market revenue could reach $ 106.5 billion in 2017 in absolute figures.
Such a huge and ever-increasing market always requires the cutting-edge technologies, including virtual reality.
So, what benefits does VR deliver to the game industry?
The main and most common devices that help to immerse in virtual reality are HMDs and audio headsets. Nevertheless, stimulation of only two senses does not result in a truly full immersion.
Only activating all five senses, including tactile feedback, simulating taste and smell, as well as freedom of movement, would full immersion be really complete.
The components of the virtual reality suit described above allow players to immerse themselves deep into the virtual world. The proper level and quality of the technologies used can make immersion so full that a wearer won’t be able to distinguish between the reality and virtuality. The quality of content is important, and sometimes, decisive factor regarding vividness.
Real time cooperation
Virtual reality allows realistic cooperative modes, where players can see the current state of their teammates and rivals, as well as interact with them in real time.
Nevertheless, as already mentioned above, the impact only on the sense of sight and audition can not immerse the player in the ongoing events in full.
Current technological level allows virtual reality suit to bring VR closer to full immersion.
Haptic feedback and mo-cap systems, climate control, VR-gloves and biometric system are the very things that virtual reality games do lack. These systems shift gears of the gameplay. Gloves with haptic feedback allow the user to interact with virtual worlds in a natural way. Motion capture system allows transferring the current position of the player (squatting, turning), his or her movements and gestures (via gloves) to the game process.
The climate control system enables experiencing various thermal effects, such as cold, heat, transitional states, as well as all situations in which these effects occur, for example, fording a river or explosion of a gas tank near a person. Even a cold wind can be simulated by means of temperature control system coupled with a haptic system.
The interest of content producers to biometrics in the gameplay has been increasing in the past few years. Companies such as Valve publicly speak of the need to read in biometrics to improve user experience and develop more engaging game concepts. The same system can similarly be used for virtual reality games. All of this makes it possible to use VR suits with overall biometrics or a set of several sensors, which were described above.
Virtual reality suit in sociocultural sphere
Immersive virtual reality shows great promise in respect of cultural and social projects.
It can be stated unequivocally that VR provides the possibility of direct immersion in cultural and historical events.
Just imagine that you can travel in the days of the Roman Empire and visit the Roman amphitheater, touch the armor and weapons of the gladiators, stroll through the streets of ancient Rome, be in the midst of events, for example in the heat of battles, to be in the same crowd with different social strata…
Full immersion in virtual reality can help to develop social projects and carry out experiments.
As the most simple example, let’s imagine social scenarios that are difficult to simulate in the laboratory, like growing discrimination against a particular group of the population.
The immersive virtual reality can help recreate the appropriate conditions in which people can be tested, what deprived groups of society really feel whether it is fear, mockery, or even the use of physical force.
Such research projects are also conducted in Stanford and can cause or increase empathy to some extent. This occurs as a result of experiencing certain conditions, which in the future can change attitudes towards socio-cultural problems, e. g., physically challenged people.
Virtual reality becomes an integral part of scientific researches and science in general.
In this area VR completes the following tasks:
- data visualization;
- modeling and prototyping;
- molecular visualization and chemical design;
- anatomical visualization;
- astronomical visualization;
- interaction with objects (using gloves with a haptic system), scaling and viewing from different angles;
- dynamic visualization and validation.
Virtual reality also actively tackles the issues of the educational process.
Here are a few reasons why virtual reality essentially stands out compared to the standard learning process:
- VR can convert an abstract object into a material object.
- With the help of feedback, it is possible to sense non-existent or inaccessible objects, which are discussed in the pedagogical process.
- Virtual reality allows not only to observe the teacher but also to act and to interact with a large number of people. In addition, training is built around a single object.
- VR and AR broaden the possibilities of collaborative mode for students, allowing faster and more efficient solution to group assignments.
- VR can simulate presence in hazardous environments. For example, walking near the active volcano and feeling the heat via climate control system.
More than one book can be devoted to the training with full immersion and using virtual reality suits. So, let’s focus on the most significant possibilities and scenarios:
- sport training;
- medical training;
- training for defense and law enforcement agencies.
Virtual reality suit for sport training
Sport training requires very accurate motion capture and biometric systems.
The former systems can solve the following problems:
- tracking movements of teams and individual players;
- trajectory tracking in sport disciplines using the ball (football, rugby, tennis, golf), archery and so on;
- efficiency analysis and correction based on computer algorithms.
The latter systems are an integral part of modern suits in professional sports. They enable real-time monitoring of vitals and varying muscle loading depending on the collected data.
Medical training is, perhaps, one of the most difficult in the modern world. Its quality directly affects life and health during first-aid and surgical operations.
Surgeon training is one of the most common VR applications in the medical field. It is based on different scenarios:
- training of surgeons through visualization and feedback systems;
- operation planning and rehearsing;
- operations with a simulation of complex scenarios;
analysis of significant and minor errors.In all scenarios, haptic feedback system is used (based on force feedback, vibration or electrical stimulation) to imitate using the instruments and applying them during operations. Ideally, such a system requires a motion capture to accurately track the positions of surgical instruments and correlate them with virtual organs to prevent ramifications and random events.
Biometrics allows to accurately monitor breathing, stress level and other important biological parameters of a surgeon during an operation.
Training of law enforcement authorities
Law enforcement authorities were the first who started using VR for their purposes.
Full set virtual reality suit allows participating in such projects as training simulations of flight, driving simulations, military and medical training and settlement constructions.
The all-inclusive design of VR suits with all above-mentioned technologies makes it possible to realistically enact all possible scenarios with full immersion. An example is combat encounters simulations. Another common scenario is hostage rescue operations or evacuation from battle zones, as well as individual work to remove the wounded from the battlefield. All these scenarios can be supplemented with various additional elements, such as fires, spills of hazardous chemicals, heavy rains and etc.
Simulation of such scenarios in virtual reality is much easier. The great advantage of VR is that they can be played as many times as necessary until the skills are properly developed.
Haptic feedback (including gloves) and motion capture systems can help in field training, developing ideal instruction manuals, as well as collecting and evaluating large amounts of information for real time decision making. A biometric system helps commanders to collect data from the trainees in real time and dynamically change the scenarios to work out action plans for possible unforeseen situations.
Scientific researches prove the fact that immersive systems, unlike conventional training systems, lead to higher results. Accordingly, full immersion VR suits can effectively solve problems, including law enforcement sphere.
The full virtual reality suit can also be used in such areas as industrial training, training of new employees and onboarding processes, training of emergency services.
One of the major consumers of VR solutions and equipment is the corporate sector and the industrial sector.
According to IDC’s research (March 2017), 20% of all VR devices are used by companies for commercial purposes.
Virtual reality has long since become part of the industrial sector, with both private and public companies using VR technologies for various purposes.
For example, in the automotive industry, VR is used in design, prototyping, manufacturing, and marketing.
First of all, head-mounted displays are used in this area for collaborative modes and data visualization. Haptic feedback can create a groundbreaking additional value by means of tactile interaction with the projected objects at design and engineering stages.
In product marketing, haptic feedback system will allow a potential buyer to evaluate design and ergonomics directly in virtual reality, touch the steering wheel and the front panel, test the comfort of the chair and evaluate the car as a whole. Then a biometric system can let the seller know how satisfied the person is, and offer the customer different options depending on his response.
Another long-standing sphere of VR application is the aerospace industry, where virtual reality and related technologies have been used for more than 20 years.
For example, it goes back to 1985 when NASA developed the NASA View helmet. It was used for space simulations.
In the aerospace industry, almost all, if not all, components can be used, which have already been mentioned.
Here are common cases in which full immersion can be used as a competitive advantage over physical simulation:
- data visualization and analysis;
- staff training and solving unforeseen problems;
- dynamic validation of satellites’ prototypes and parts of spacecraft;
- flight simulations;
- collaborative work on complex tasks;
- identification of minimum risk situations;
- developing automatic responses as a result of skill training;
- training to minimize injuries and fatalities;
- gravity simulation and behavior standards in these conditions.
In addition to aerospace and automotive industry, entire VR technologies stack (haptic feedback, motion capture, gloves, biometric system, exoskeleton) can be used in such areas as production, engineering, construction, architecture, marketing.
The VR industry is developing relatively fast. An entire ecosystem is built around it. The main tools for immersing in virtual worlds are head-mounted displays and audio headsets. The virtual reality suit is an integral part of this process considering the ability to make the user’s experience complete, that is to immerse a person in an artificially generated space and to give the opportunity to feel this world through touches. It is achieved through sensory systems, which are based on various technologies: vibration, electrical stimulation, force feedback.
It may take another 1-3 years until a full-fledged VR suit is developed and introduced into the mass market.
In Teslasuit start-up we develop a suit for full immersion in gaming, educational and learning processes. A complete set includes a jacket, trousers, and gloves. Teslasuit comprises 4 systems, functioning as a single unit. They are haptic feedback based on electrical stimulation, motion capture, climate control and biometric analysis. T-Gloves prototype was designed for full-fledged interaction. The current version includes haptic feedback and motion capture systems.