The only reason to be shocked by a haptic shirt at CES 2023 is you and technology.
I visited OWO on the CES floor to try out the company’s new haptic sleeves, for which it won a CES Innovation Award. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that some of the less fanatical wearables weren’t up for the test. No, OWO had their Second Skin Haptic Shirt, which is basically a Lycra T-shirt with wires artfully sewn into it, ready to go.
Jose Fuertes, the company’s CEO, explained to me that the shirt doesn’t do pressure-based haptics. Instead, it delivers low-power electrical pulses to muscles in your abdomen, back, arms and chest to simulate a wide range of physical effects. The company is in talks with most of the major gaming studios to license the technology.
Wearing a shirt, you can feel as if a knife is stuck in your chest or a bullet is entering your stomach and exiting your back. You could feel the echo of the gun. That’s what Fuertes promised. Naturally, I was even more interested when I learned that the $399 (€399) Second Skin Haptic shirt was only in a handful of hands, as the product doesn’t officially ship in the US and Europe until February.
I wanted to try it. I mean, I thought I did.
The OWO representative directed me to a privacy booth where I could remove my shirt and undershirt. The shirt’s very sticky electrodes require skin contact to work.
They measured my chest but I found it incredibly tight when put on second skin. He told me that it is best to stay fit. I took the lead with effort. Then someone from OWO put a slightly bulky battery pack in a pocket near my waist and connected a contact to each arm and closed the sleeve as well.
The shirt provides nine parameters of electrical waves based on the algorithm of sensations. This means that there is some calibration to ensure that the sensation for each type of haptic effect is to your liking.
I stood with the OWO representative as she used a Bluetooth-connected app to calibrate the sensations at each muscle location and for different types of sensations.
Initially I didn’t feel anything. Then he increases the intensity by an increment and I felt a sharp and not particularly pleasant stinging sensation, for example, in my arm or stomach.
When he turned the digital dial too high, I was shocked. Eventually, though, all I got was what I thought was an acceptable range.
Next, I put on the Quest 2 VR headset and started playing a game in which I was being attacked by drones.
Suddenly, I felt a prick in my arm, being shot at by a drone coming from my left side. Soon I was shooting down drones while being brutalized by the increasingly painful stings of their hits and haptic shirts.
The fusillade culminated in a large black drone flying straight over my head and exploding a few inches from my face. My whole body was burning with pain.
I heard OWO asking if I wanted to try a different game. I replied a little too quickly, “No!”
I pulled myself out of a shirt and at least one electrode seemed to be attached to my skin. For an hour after that experience, I could feel the phantom pain of those nerves. Was this company named OWO or “Ow Ow Ow”?
Before I left, Jose Fuertes ran up to me and asked, “Do you like it?” Sensing my uncertainty, he said that now knowing what it was like, I would have a better experience doing it again. I wasn’t sure. I think the sleeve, which limits the sensations of catching and throwing the ball with your arms, may ultimately prove more popular.
Still, I can see the usefulness of something like the OWO Haptic Gaming System for combat training and hardcore gamers who want that extra level of commitment.
As far as I’m concerned? It wasn’t love, but it wasn’t hate either.
check our CES 2023 The hub for all the latest news from the show as it happens. We’ll be covering everything from 8K TVs and foldable displays to new phones, laptops, and smart home gadgets, so stay tuned for big news.
The most painful thing I’ve ever done at CES. Hands on with the OWO Second Asking Haptic Gaming System. It delivers tiny electrical charges throughout your body. (gunshot, stabbing) You set the intensity, but Ow! Cost $399, ships in February. No cost or benefits on the sleeve. #CES2023 pic.twitter.com/i9GGcyiwD9January 5, 2023