The strange alliance between medical technology and super-violent video games continues. In addition to the Novint Falcon, an I/O device originally developed to convey tactile qualities of digital images to doctors, the E for All Expo also featured the 3rd Space FPS Vest, a device that delivers pressure to the body when a video game character gets shot. Like the Falcon, the FPS Vest has medical origins—it was originally designed by Mark Ombrellaro, a practicing vascular surgeon from Bellevue, WA, as a way for doctors to perform examinations over the Internet.
“There’s actually some similarities in skills between medicine and video games,” Ombrellaro says, who started TN Games to market the entertainment version of the device. “You have to be good with your hands—and there’s also the science part.”
Here’s how Ombrellaro handles the science part with the vest: In response to real-time information from the game through a USB cable, the device sends up to 10 pounds of pressure from an air compressor to one or more of eight contact points in the front and back of the vest (you can see two of the points in the picture of the black vest). Blasts of pressure can last up to five seconds. TN Games will also be rolling out a different version of the vest with larger air bladders in it to simulate G-forces
in driving and flight simulator games (it’s the red one in the photo). TN Games has created a software API to help game developers integrate support for the vest into existing titles in what Ombrellaro estimates to be no more than a week of programming and beta testing.
Ombrellaro is still seeking government approval for the medical version of the vest, since he has to prove that remote examinations are as reliable for detecting disease states as an in-person one would be. In the meantime, since the medical research gave rise to the video game tech, he hopes to re-direct some of the profits from the 3rd Space FPS Vest back into the medical side of the business.
But particularly as a follower of the Hippocratic Oath, does he worry that some resourceful, anarchic gamer might hack his vest to deliver pressure at unsafe levels?
“We can’t eliminate modding,” Ombrellaro says. “But we don’t recommend it. We make all sorts of warnings in our materials.”
I consider myself warned—given how 12-year-olds were already kicking my butt in the various shooters on display at the Expo, the last thing I need to add to my humiliation are a bunch of bruises.—Andrew Rosenblum