Trying On the Teslasuit, the Device Designed to Make You Feel Virtual Reality

Kickstarter
Kickstarter

We’re supposed to laugh at new technologies, right? It helps the inventors and believers in the long run, allowing them to look back and say, “See, you all laughed at us.” If that's the case, then I will go on record as saying that I laughed at the Teslasuit when I first saw it featured in a Kickstarter video.

According to its Kickstarter campaign page, the Teslasuit is “the world’s first full-body haptic suit that lets you touch and feel the future of Virtual Reality and gaming.” In other words, it’s a device that transmits tactile stimuli to its wearer via electric pulses. The demo video in question is achingly futuristic. It includes hands-on testimonials from British celebrities oooooh-ing and ahhhhhhhh-ing while wearing the wetsuit-looking machine. "This is definitely the future," says soccer player Scott Brown in his thick Scottish brogue. Close your eyes, and it's easy to imagine him saying this after beaming someone up to the USS Enterprise:

If I chuckled while watching the video, it’s because I couldn't imagine wearing a tight black suit fitted with dozens of electrodes. However, I wasn’t laughing when I actually put a version of the Teslasuit on, with Tesla Studios co-founder Dimitree Marozau controlling the frequency and power of the electric pulses firing into my body from his tablet computer.

VIRTUAL REALITY, LITERALLY

Dimitree Marozau and his business partner, Teslasuit CEO Dimitri Mikhalchuk, met me in the midst of their whirlwind tour of America (they are based in the UK). They have taken their show on the road, demonstrating what they believe to be the future of virtual reality to interested parties across the West Coast. Our meeting was postponed after a visit from reality reality: Their car had been broken into in San Francisco’s Financial District, and much of their equipment was stolen. Still, they managed to fit me into their busy schedule, agreeing to demonstrate the suit for me on Sunday evening on short notice at a friend's apartment.

“We don’t sleep,” Marozau says with a chuckle. He and his team have been working “24/7 for three years straight,” though that doesn’t seem to slow him down. He speaks breathlessly with a Belorussian accent, and hearing him and (the somewhat calmer) Mikhalchuk wax lyrical about Tesla Studios' vision for the future is a trip. (It should be noted that Tesla Studios and the Teslasuit aren’t affiliated with Elon Musk or Tesla Motors … "yet," says Marozau.)

To Dimitree and Dimitri, the Teslasuit is a lot of things. They promote it primarily as a gaming device, but they also tease it as the future of personal massage therapy (“very useful in long-haul flights”), an engagement tool for filmmakers (“We went to Hollywood; there’s lots of things happening”), a must-have piece of equipment for astronauts (“Muscle atrophy is a big problem in space”), the logical next-step in immersion therapy (“It could be used to get rid of phobias”), and much, much more (“Our mission is to connect people. People who cannot experience simple pleasures”).

Some of their ideas may sound better than others. For example, using the suit as a messaging device that sends an electric pulse to a specific part of your body when you receive an email or text strikes me as a Pavlovian nightmare. But, as they are quick to tell me, this is just one of endless applications for the suit. “What we’ve built is a platform,” says Marozau. “This is like the computer, the iPhone. It gives you full freedom."

I ask about whether or not the suit could be used for watching pornography, partly because I assume everyone has asked them this question. Marozau confirms that everyone has in fact asked this, though he is somewhat more circumspect about the Teslasuit's potential XXX applications. "Developers are free to use the software as they please," he says, diplomatically.

Right now, the Teslasuit is intended for developers only. Besides having to wait for FDA approval to sell it directly to the consumer market, Marozau says they want to build a large network of developers and beta testers so they can create “an environment around the suit,” an open-sourced foundation pieced together through tinkering and trial-and-error.

It is to this end that, ideally, the Teslasuit works as a conduit—both literally and figuratively.

ELEMENTARY ELECTRODES

Perhaps the best way to understand the basic technology behind the Teslasuit’s hardware is by watching this infomercial for the Flex Belt ("It tones, it tightens, and it strengthens without me having to think about it!"):

The electrodes in the suit are not unlike the ones used in the ab belts that were all the rage some 10 to 15 years ago. An electric pulse transmitted to your skin causes the muscles to contract. That’s it. Before being shilled by infomercial hucksters promising six-packs, electric stimulation was commonly used by physical therapists to rehabilitate patients’ injured or atrophied muscles. "The technology has been around for over 20 years," Mikhalchuk says.

For our meeting, Dimitree and Dimitri brought just a Teslasuit jacket, one lined with 30 electrodes (a newer version of the jacket features 60 electrodes). Amazingly, it looks pretty cool. It’s sleek, and cut much like a motorcycle jacket, with no overt signs pointing to the fact that it’s filled with nodes and meant to be worn with a VR helmet. The Tesla Studios team includes people from the fashion industry, and their input is immediately apparent.

Marozau tells me this jacket was put together specifically for their trip to America. It was made in just 24 hours, he says, stressing that their manufacturing process is efficient and scalable. The suit supposedly lasts four days off one charge and is waterproof and washable. “This jacket has been washed 20 times,” Mikhalchuk tells me, perhaps sensing some apprehension on my part after learning about all the intimate demonstrations the suit has been subjected to the past few weeks around Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area.

Everything about the suit seems eminently reasonable (relatively), though there was one noticeable catch: I had to wear a wet T-shirt underneath it for my demo. The wet T-shirt primarily helps with conductivity, but it also prevents any irritation one might experience in the suit. If I was worried my first foray into haptic reality suits was going to be too normal, getting a tutorial from Marozau in a cramped bathroom on how to properly wet a T-shirt quickly fixed that. (Future models likely won’t require this step—there is a tiny tube poking out from the waistline that will pump in a lubricating element.)

After putting on the snug jacket—it was designed for Dimitree’s frame—I struggled to find the words to describe how I felt. “Like Iron Man?” Mikhalchuk asks, “Everyone says that.”

TUNE IN, TURN ON, ZIPPER UP

After strapping me into a belt that gives the jacket Bluetooth connectivity, Marozau syncs it to his tablet computer and starts to play with the knobs on the demo program’s interface. 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.”

He’s right. Soon, I’m controlling the jacket myself, tapping sections on my avatar to bring about pulsing sensations in real life. It’s a peculiar out-of-body experience, like being tickled by your own ghost. But how does this translate to virtual reality?

Thanks to whoever broke into Dimitree and Dimitri’s car, I wasn’t able to find out. All their equipment (save for the jacket, which they had on them at the time of the break-in) was stolen, and though they were able to borrow an Oculus Rift and VR laptop, their virtual reality gaming demo wasn’t back up and running by the time they met with me.

They assure me it works, though I can only take their word for it. What I experienced was nothing like, say, the sensation of walking through a field of wheat or being splashed by a wave. “Reality is the way we measure it, this is quantum physics,” Marozau says. Our systems of neuro-chemical reactions for touch are pretty straight-forward; our brains combine it with other senses to supply the context and meaning. If the visual and other outside stimuli that correspond with touch are convincing enough, the project presupposes, a corresponding power and frequency from the electrodes could allow for a convincing virtual reality experience. 

A main goal of Tesla Studios—and this is far-horizon stuff—is to build a database of every tactile sensation on Earth. “It’s why we’re attracting beta testers and developers,” says Marozau. The hope is that, one day, they will know which electric pulse corresponds to a feather, what combination of power and frequency translates to sand, or bubble wrap, or an exploding paintball. “This is big data analysis,” he says. “We want to get all this data, just amalgamate it and analyze and find out the patterns. There’s lots of work ahead.”

Therein lies the most interesting aspect of the Teslasuit, whether or not the Teslasuit will be the medium through which it’s achieved. If we can fit an entire world of sensations in the cloud, where does that lead us? At what point does the “V” in “VR” begin to fade away? Dimitree and Dimitri may not have the answers right now, though they love asking the questions.

Dimitree and Dimitri’s tour of America is far from over. After our meeting they have to hurry out and prepare for the next day’s presentation to a group of media executives, one that will include a demonstration of a “trans-Atlantic hug” with someone wearing the suit in the UK. I give them back the Teslasuit jacket that will be used in this "tele-haptic" exchange and say goodbye. My shirt is still sopping wet.

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

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Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

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What Movie Do You Want to Watch? This Website Analyzes Film Critic Reviews to Help You Choose

She's smiling because it only took her two minutes to choose a movie.
She's smiling because it only took her two minutes to choose a movie.
Rowan Jordan/iStock via Getty Images

Much like sommeliers can detect subtle notes of who-knows-what in a sip of wine, film critics are fantastic at identifying influences and drawing parallels between movies. Cinetrii is a handy website that crowdsources all that movie knowledge to help you find your next favorite film.

Basically, you enter the name of a movie you enjoyed in the search bar, and the site will show you a node graph with film recommendations splintering off the search query. Click on one, and you’ll see a quote from a critic (or critics) who referenced the films together. This way, you get a list of recommendations based on different aspects of the movie, and you get to decide for yourself what you’d like to see more of.

If, for example, you were blown away by the special effects in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, you might like Doctor Strange; according to Variety, it boasts “a staggering visual effects innovation, in which the building-bending seen in Christopher Nolan’s Inception is taken to an extreme that would blow even M.C. Escher’s mind.” If what the Chicago Tribune calls an “elegant brain-bender” quality appealed to you more, The Matrix might be a perfect fit.

Films above your search query were released before the movie you typed in, while films below came out after it. The shorter the line, the more closely the films are related, as calculated by the website’s algorithm. And, as Lifehacker points out, that algorithm doesn’t give any special treatment to massive Hollywood blockbusters, so Cinetrii is an especially great way to find hidden gems. Because it shows you the critics' actual quotes, you’re not left to wonder why a certain film landed on the recommendations list—which can’t always be said for “Watch next” lists on streaming services.

You can explore Cinetrii here.

[h/t Lifehacker]