New Haptic Vest Hopes to Bring Real-Life Sensations to VR

I got a feelin'...

Key Takeaways

  • Actronika’s Skinetic wearable uses strategically mapped tactile feedback points to deliver a more realistic VR experience.
  • The Skinetic vest will debut at CES 2022.
  • Actronika will make the vest available for pre-order during a month-long Kickstarter campaign in March 2022.
Actronika’s Skinetic haptic vest for virtual reality

Actronika

You've felt raindrops during a storm, but imagine feeling the air hitting your face as you parachute from the back of a plane in virtual reality (VR). By reproducing the sensations our bodies experience in the physical world, a new wearable promises to make the realm of VR feel more real. 

Actronika has banked on its years of experience in the field of haptics to create a vest-like wearable that enables gamers to feel real-life sensations in virtual worlds. It claims to do so by employing a souped-up version of a well-known haptic mechanism that it's calling "high-definition vibrotactile haptics." 

"When we touch an object, vibrations are propagated in our body and allow us to understand the nature of the surface or object with which we interact," explained Actronika's Communications Manager, Marina Crifar, in an email to Lifewire. "Vibrotactile haptics consists in reproducing these vibrations created during an interaction so that our somatosensory system interprets them and leads to a coherent tactile illusion. So the users of Skinetic can feel real-life sensations."

High-Def Sensations

According to HaptX, vibrotactile feedback devices, which help users feel sound, are by far the most widespread class of commercial haptic devices. Rudimentary vibrotactile feedback examples include the buzz of a cell phone, as well as the rumble of a game controller, while the Gloveone and Manus symbolize the latest generation of vibrotactile feedback wearables.

Actronika claims to have upped the game by optimizing the wearer’s perception of the sensations to deliver a far more realistic experience than the current generation of vibrotactile feedback devices.

"The vest [is] capable of generating a wide range of vibrations that covers 100% of human vibrotactile perception."

Crifar explains that Claire Richards, a researcher in Actronika's team, helped map the tactile feedback points in the vest's design after studying the variations of sensitivity of the human body at the different points of stimulation. 

She claims this mapping has helped the Skinetic vest optimize the users' perception and appreciation of the sensations. It's also what makes the vest useful for all kinds of immersive VR applications, from training to gaming.

Crowd Control

Even so, Actronika isn’t the only game in town for VR wearables.

In an email to Lifewire, VR enthusiast and YouTuber GingasVR pointed to the haptics vest from bHaptics that also lets wearers feel a variety of sensations, and according to GingasVR, is the most advanced consumer haptics feedback vest currently in the market. 

When questioned, Crifar pointed out two essential differences between the Skinetic and the bHaptics vest.

For one, Crifar said the bHaptics vest integrates Eccentric Rotating Mass (ERM) motors for the vibrations that only use one frequency and is the same technology used in phones and old game controllers.

On the other hand, the Skinetic vest integrates voice-coil motors that use several frequencies, which helps it cover the "whole vibrotactile perception" and reproduce a wide variety of sensations.

"The vest integrates 20 patented vibrotactile voice-coil motors, capable of generating a wide range of vibrations that covers 100% of human vibrotactile perception," said Crifar. 

The second significant difference between the two, Crifar explained, is that the bHaptics vest operates on the "audio to haptics" principle, transforming all sounds into vibrations. In contrast, the haptics in Skinetic are de-correlated from the sound. This, according to Crifar, helps the vest avoid sensations that don't need to be translated tactically, such as a distant explosion.

Put It On

In a press release, Actronika said it'll let users experience Skinetic at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2022. According to Crifar, the company has prepared a special experience to help CES attendees experience Skinetic to its fullest. 

"It's a short passive demonstration, easier to show during an event. The goal is to show different sensations that you can feel with the vest according to the interactions you have in virtual reality," she explained.

Young Girl Surprised During The Virtual Reality Experience At Home

Amparo García / EyeEm / Getty Images

While Actronika hasn't shared pricing details for the vest, according to the release, Skinetic will be available for pre-order starting March 22, 2022, during a one-month Kickstarter campaign. 

"A few players are beginning to add the sense of touch into VR. However, the tactile illusions are still very flat," summed up Actronika's CEO Gilles Meyer. "We decided to take this technology from black and white to full color!"

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