Well folks, I hate to plagiarize, but I’m going to have to steal some of our Editor-in-Chief Lance Ulanoff’s words for this one. As he said in his Apple Vision Pro hands-on, I feel like I just wore the future – and my future was a lot cheaper than Apple’s fancy mixed-reality headset.
At IFA 2023 in Berlin, one of the world’s biggest tech expos, I was strapped and zipped into a thick vest to experience a seriously impressive haptic feedback demo in virtual reality. The tech demo was pretty rudimentary; I stood in a cavernous room while Portal-inspired drones zipped about bombarding me with all manner of projectiles, followed by some inclement weather simulations and finally a nuclear blast.
Graphically, it left a lot to be desired, but that wasn’t the point. Physically, it felt incredible; I’ve tested out haptic tech in years past, but nothing since before the Covid-19 pandemic. Clearly, the creators of this vest – French tech firm Actronika – spent a lot of time in lockdown improving the physicality of their haptic product. This felt like a revelation.
Get Ready, Player One
While the pointed impacts of virtual bullets and lasers against my chest and the torso-shaking rumble of explosions and fireballs were impressive, the part that truly won me over was the rain simulation. If I had closed my eyes underneath my VR headset, I truly could’ve been standing outside during a downpour; I could feel every simulated droplet as they landed on my body, varying convincingly in intensity.
Now, the showcase might’ve looked a tad rudimentary, but I’ve seen enough cool stuff in VR to extrapolate the potential of this technology. Half-Life: Alyx, Horizon: Call of the Mountain, and No Man’s Sky VR all come to mind - and as we know from Lance’s time with the Apple Vision Pro, virtual reality is constantly improving. Immersive experiences like this could be the future of gaming, and at €789 (about $850 / £680 / AU$1,320), the Actronika vest is a lot cheaper than Apple’s headset – though more expensive than the Meta Quest 2.
Actronika created the tech demo to showcase what its haptic products could be capable of; currently, the vest is only compatible with a selection of non-VR titles including the ever-popular Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, but the company hopes to properly integrate hardware-agnostic VR support and even expand its range of haptic devices. A ‘haptic unit’ attached to a paper cup on Actronika’s stand was able to realistically simulate the sensation of pouring different liquids and objects into it.
As wary as I might be of new technology – especially the rising threat of AI – I’m genuinely excited for this to become more widely accessible. No, I don’t plan to sequester myself in a VR pod to live vicariously through simulated Ready Player One fantasies, but let’s say that I’m looking forward to using this awesome new tech a healthy amount in the future.