What It Feels Like to Don a Skintight Virtual Reality Suit

Though it sounds a little weird, it might be the future of virtual reality

Teslasuit, a full-body VR suit, worn in a demo. screenshot from Teslasuit Kickstarter video, Tesla Studios

Most technophiles have heard about virtual reality headsets like Oculus Rift or the more thrifty Google Cardboard. These devices are a big new thing for gaming but eventually could change the way we travel, talk to people far away and more. But have you heard of the virtual reality body suit? Just as the headsets let users see things that aren't really there, the suit lets them feel their new reality.

Journalist Nick Greene's foray into this weird frontier of virtual reality gaming involved precise instructions on how to properly wet his tee-shirt. The water would help with the connectivity for the electrode-studded, skintight jacket he was about to demo, he writes for Mental Floss. The product? Teslasuit, created by Tesla Studios, which is based in Scotland and has no connection to Elon Musk's Tesla Motors. Their company, like Musk's, is channeling the innovative spirit of inventor Nikola Tesla.

The suit looks very sci-fi in the company's Kickstarter campaign video. The suit is based on neuromuscular electrical stimulation—the same technology used in athletic training and rehabilitation, the Kickstarter page explains. It's also similar to the tech that powered the electronic exercise band craze.  Instead of toning the abs, however, the Teslasuit is supposed to deliver "a wide range of sensations." The company is still developing the suit's capabilities but eventually they hope to program it to deliver touches that translate to "sand, or bubble wrap, or an exploding paintball," writes Greene. 

“This is big data analysis,” Dimitree Marozau, the studios' co-founder tells Mental Floss. “We want to get all this data, just amalgamate it and analyze and find out the patterns. There’s lots of work ahead.”

So what does it feel like? Greene just had the opportunity to try on a slightly-too-small-for him jacket. The software with the jacket connects via Bluetooth and Marozau interacted with a digital avatar representing Greene. He writes: 

When he presses the shoulder on my little avatar, I feel a pulsing, like someone tapping me on the shoulder. He then moves to my avatar’s stomach, and the same thing happens there. He tweaks the power and frequency and revs it up to a point that almost makes me double over. “You will get used to it,” he says, “Like jumping into cold water. It will become normal.”

Greene adds that when he uses the program himself, it's like being "tickled by your own ghost." The suit still has hurdles to clear. Already it is washable and is supposed to last four days off one charge. The whole wet tee-shirt thing will be replaced with a pumping mechanism that will lube up wearers instead.

On a related note, apparently everyone asks if the Teslasuit will lend itself to XXX-rated virtual reality experiences. Marozau tells Greene that, "developers are free to use the software as they please." But the suit could also be used in medical rehabilitation or to give distant loved ones a virtual hug they can actually feel.

The whole experience may sound weird, but often the future does.

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