In the 1950s, movie theaters were all abuzz with 'Smell-o-Vision', a new invention that promised to immerse viewers in their entertainment experience by surrounding them with smells related to what they were seeing on screen. Moviegoers were at first intrigued and excited by the idea, but pretty soon after its introduction, the technique took a nosedive. It proved difficult for theater owners to flush the smells out of the theater between showings, and there were often problems synching the scents accurately with the films. Plus, some moviegoers found certain smells irritating or even sickening, to the point that they had to leave before the movie ended. So Smell-o-Vision was a passing fad that faded into movie history pretty quickly.
Fast-forward to today's moviemakers, who are constantly looking for ways to keep the American public entertained. The moviemaking business is highly competitive, so over the past decade, filmmakers have raised the bar in special effects, high-def cinematography, and computer-generated animation. Moviegoers are always looking for more realism that gives them a visceral response to what they're seeing on screen, and computer-generated special effects have been just the ticket for the past decade or so.
Now, virtual reality is going to be even more fashionable. Philips, the corporate giant known for creating cutting-edge electronics technology, has created a prototype for an 'enhanced reality' type of clothing, designed to enhance movie watching to the ultimate degree. The jacket is loaded with devices that monitor 'haptic' (sensory) feedback. The jacket can actually increase a person's emotional immersion in a film, rather than simply copying the physical sensations of being right in the middle of the action.
According to scientists at Philips, people don't realize how sensitive the human body is to touch, even though touch is the first of the five senses that emerge as a fetus develops in the womb. The sense of touch is wired directly into subconscious responses of emotion, and that fact is the basis on which the jacket has been developed.
There are 64 actuators sewn into the jacket, with each one controlled over a serial bus in addition to having dedicated individual electronics. The actuators draw a current so low that the whole jacket can function for longer than an hour simply on the power from two AA batteries. Because every actuator cycles as quickly as .01 seconds, the feedback reaches the wearer almost immediately, and the design of the jacket distributes the units in a carefully laid-out pattern so they can fool the brain into sensing some activity going on between each of the actuators, for a total body experience.
The actuators are very tiny, so they aren't able to make the jacket wearer feel the embrace of someone in a love story, the impact of an explosion in an action movie, or the slam of being kicked by a foot in a martial arts movie. But the signals from the smart box that is connected to the hardware playing the movie results in sensations that can literally send a shiver down your spine, cause you to feel that back-of-the-neck tickle, or cause your limbs to tighten up or your hands to clench during frightening or dramatic scenes. In really emotional scenes, the jacket could even simulate the feeling of your heart pounding your chest, which could possibly result in your pulse becoming elevated.
Although the enhanced reality jacket is just a prototype, and is still being researched and developed, scientists think that in the not-too-distant future, people will be able to go to a movie theater, buy a ticket to the film, and then rent a wireless sensory jacket to wear that will increase their experience in the theater. Be prepared―horror movies are on the verge of becoming even more terrifying.