Right now, virtual reality is pretty much a visual medium. Slip on a VR headset, and you’ll see a whole other world. Try to touch something, however, and the illusion is shattered – sometimes painfully. For the technology to evolve, users must be able to interact more fully with the environment and experience it with more of their senses. I spoke with Dimitri Mikhalchuk, CEO of Teslasuit, about his company’s plan to enhance virtual reality.
Q: Why did you develop the Teslasuit? What kind of barriers have there been in development?
Dimitri Mikhalchuk: At first, it was a project for ourselves. We started developing a VR headset, but soon realized that there were many companies doing exactly the same thing, so we moved on to other parts of the VR ecosystem that were missing: haptic gloves with motion capture. Having built them, we thought it would be great to actually cover the whole body, not just the hands. This is how the Teslasuit idea was born.
The barriers in development were mostly either rare or expensive components, while we wanted to build an affordable device. It led us to inventing many workarounds and coming up with our own replacements. Another barrier was the fact we had to bootstrap and self-fund the entire development process.
Q: Can you describe how the suit works?
DM: The Teslasuit is built around neuromuscular stimulation, where our patented conductive smart fabric delivers tiny mild electric pulses to various part of the body. By varying the power, frequency and an amplitude, we are able to simulate various sensations. Coupling it with the visual information delivered via VR headset makes it a full-on experience. Our smart fabric is very similar to normal clothing: It contains no wires, it’s very soft and is even machine-washable.
Q: What are some of the applications of the suit?
DM: Gaming applications could vary from wind or rain sensations to shots and touches. The more expensive versions, containing temperature control, would also allow the wearer to feel heat and cold. In well-being applications, the suit can be used as a muscle stimulator, massager, etc. The motion-capture system also helps to read body motion and hand gestures, allowing the wearer to interact within a VR environment.
Beyond gaming and health, the suit can help provide silent notifications to various body parts from a vast array of devices. It could also be upgraded to contain various sensors to monitor and track health. As the suit is adopted by a wider public, many other applications will be developed.
Q: What are some of the main obstacles keeping the Teslasuit and VR in general from being accepted by the masses?
DM: Currently, the main issues with VR becoming widely accepted are probably the price and the fact that it’s hard for people to imagine what to expect before trying it. Today, high-quality VR content still requires a powerful and expensive computer. Also, decent headsets still cost too much.
Teslasuit is a startup; once we gain acceptance from game developers, it should be easier to get our sales numbers up. Economy of scale will help bring the price down considerably.
Q: What are the next steps for your company?
DM: We hope that in five years either our suits or the underlying technology will become as widespread as mobile phones, used for gaming, health care, design and remote communication. Ultimately, we’d like to see our technology used by space travelers to help keep muscle atrophy to a minimum.
In the near future, we plan to relaunch our crowdfunding campaign [Teslasuit canceled its initial Kickstarter campaign earlier this year.], with a much-better price strategy and better support. We invite all developers and early adopters to support our cause and get a suit or two. Only together will we be able to turn VR and haptic technology into household tech.