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.

This Gorgeous Vintage Edition of Clue Sets the Perfect Mood for a Murder Mystery

WS Game Company
WS Game Company

Everyone should have a few good board games lying around the house for official game nights with family and friends and to kill some time on the occasional rainy day. But if your collection leaves a lot to be desired, you can class-up your selection with this great deal on the Vintage Bookshelf Edition of Clue for $40.

A brief history of Clue

'Clue' Vintage Bookshelf Edition.
WS Game Company.

Originally titled Murder!, Clue was created by a musician named Anthony Pratt in Birmingham, England, in 1943, and he filed a patent for it in 1944. He sold the game to Waddington's in the UK a few years later, and they changed the name to Cluedo in 1949 (that name was a mix between the words clue and Ludo, which was a 19th-century game.) That same year, the game was licensed to Parker Brothers in the United States, where it was published as Clue. Since then, there have been numerous special editions and spinoffs of the original game, not to mention books and a television series based on it. Most notably, though, was the cult classic 1985 film Clue, which featured Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, and Lesley Ann Warren.

As you probably know, every game of Clue begins with the revelation of a murder. The object of the game is to be the first person to deduce who did it, with what weapon, and where. To achieve that end, each player assumes the role of one of the suspects and moves strategically around the board collecting clues.

With its emphasis on logic and critical thinking—in addition to some old-fashioned luck—Clue is a masterpiece that has stood the test of time and evolved with each decade, with special versions of the game hitting shelves recently based on The Office, Rick and Morty, and Star Wars.

Clue Vintage Bookshelf Edition

'Clue' Vintage Library Edition.
WS Game Company

The Vintage Bookshelf Edition of Clue is the work of the WS Game Company, a licensee of Hasbro, and all the design elements are inspired by the aesthetic of the 1949 original. The game features a vintage-looking game board, cards, wood movers, die-cast weapons, six pencils, an ivory-colored die, an envelope, and a pad of “detective notes.” And, of course, everything folds up and stores inside a beautiful cloth-bound book box that you can store right on the shelf in your living room.

Clue Vintage Bookshelf Edition is a limited-release item, and right now you can get it for $40.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

Turn Your LEGO Bricks Into a Drone With the Flybrix Drone Kit

Flyxbrix/FatBrain
Flyxbrix/FatBrain

Now more than ever, it’s important to have a good hobby. Of course, a lot of people—maybe even you—have been obsessed with learning TikTok dances and baking sourdough bread for the last few months, but those hobbies can wear out their welcome pretty fast. So if you or someone you love is looking for something that’s a little more intellectually stimulating, you need to check out the Flybrix LEGO drone kit from Fat Brain Toys.

What is a Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit?

The Flybrix drone kit lets you build your own drones out of LEGO bricks and fly them around your house using your smartphone as a remote control (via Bluetooth). The kit itself comes with absolutely everything you need to start flying almost immediately, including a bag of 56-plus LEGO bricks, a LEGO figure pilot, eight quick-connect motors, eight propellers, a propeller wrench, a pre-programmed Flybrix flight board PCB, a USB data cord, a LiPo battery, and a USB LiPo battery charger. All you’ll have to do is download the Flybrix Configuration Software, the Bluetooth Flight Control App, and access online instructions and tutorials.

Experiment with your own designs.

The Flybrix LEGO drone kit is specifically designed to promote exploration and experimentation. All the components are tough and can totally withstand a few crash landings, so you can build and rebuild your own drones until you come up with the perfect design. Then you can do it all again. Try different motor arrangements, add your own LEGO bricks, experiment with different shapes—this kit is a wannabe engineer’s dream.

For the more advanced STEM learners out there, Flybrix lets you experiment with coding and block-based coding. It uses an arduino-based hackable circuit board, and the Flybrix app has advanced features that let you try your hand at software design.

Who is the Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit for?

Flybrix is a really fun way to introduce a number of core STEM concepts, which makes it ideal for kids—and technically, that’s who it was designed for. But because engineering and coding can get a little complicated, the recommended age for independent experimentation is 13 and up. However, kids younger than 13 can certainly work on Flybrix drones with the help of their parents. In fact, it actually makes a fantastic family hobby.

Ready to start building your own LEGO drones? Click here to order your Flybrix kit today for $198.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.