Right now, most of us experience virtual reality through headsets. The video aspect can feel immersive. The audio aspect can feel immersive. However, “immersion” should involve all of the senses. Touch is engaged through the science of haptics.
Some controllers incorporate haptics but incorporating the technology into wearable devices is the next step that some producers are exploring. ARPost and some of the good people at Feelbelt talked about their product.
Feelbelt is a German company that makes a haptic belt with 10 pulse generators. The belt connects to other devices through an input jack, wifi, or via bluetooth. Naturally, we’re most interested in the VR applications, but technically the belt works with any device with a compatible audio output.
“Feelbelt is a device that allows you to to feel everything that happens to you in a game or a video in VR as haptic feedback,” Feelbelt’s Business Development Manager, Carsten Klippstein, said in a phone interview.
The startup just concluded a massively successful Kickstarter campaign, raising €60,007 ($67,409) of a €20,000 ($22,467) goal. The Feelbelt is currently available for preorder for just under $250. Need other reasons to order? It’s 100% made in Germany, and the company plants a tree for every belt that they sell.
Haptics and Immersion
There are a couple of competitors in the haptic wearables field. However, the 10 pulse generators is nine more than most offer. The only wearable with more touch-points is the $685 SoundShirt.
The Feelbelt’s ten pulse generators allow for a more complex feeling of sound, which we’ll return to in a moment. It also means that the belt allows users to feel which direction a sound is coming from.
“We’re basically punching you with the sound of everything that you’re experiencing,” said Klippstein.
Further, Feelbelt can work with a sound range of 1 to 20,000 Hz – a range including lows and highs that most people can’t even hear. Other haptics in the field only pick up bass notes from 1 to 500 Hz.
Of course, anybody can use the device, but a key inspiration for the hardware is accessibility.
“For you and me, it’s an entertainment gimmick,” said Klippstein. “The second big part is accessibility for people who are hearing impaired or even totally deaf.”
For most readers, Feelbelt is a way to make their favorite immersive experiences that much more immersive. However, for other readers, Feelbelt and other haptics don’t make immersive experiences more immersive – they make immersive experiences possible.