New Tech Promises Real Muscle-Propelled Force Feedback In Games

Technology used to rehabilitate paralyzed limbs might hold the key to providing true force feedback in future gaming devices.

Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS), also known as neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) or electromyostimulation is a technology that uses electric impulses to elicit muscles to contract. Today, this technology is mainly used in muscle therapy, but Pedro Lopes and colleagues at the Hasso Plattner Institute have developed a prototype gaming device that uses EMS to send non-painful electric pulses directly to the player’s muscles, eliciting them to contract and give the feeling that the game is physically pushing against them.

The prototype, dubbed “Muscle-Propelled Force Feedback,” stimulates the player’s muscles through two wired electrodes attached to his forearm. A specially designed game in which players controlled an aircraft through strong wind was used to test the system. Ten players tried out the game and "all of them preferred our mobile force-feedback over traditional vibrotactile feedback."

In addition to its superior feedback feeling, the EMS-based solution is much smaller and more power efficient than existing solutions that rely on motors to produce vibrotactile feedback (vibrations); that is, if you are OK with strapping the two electrodes to your forearm.

Make sure to check the prototype out in the gallery.

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