Road to VR recently visited Hardlight VR’s downtown Seattle office to take a look at the new Mark III version of their haptic vest. During the visit, Hardlight VR revealed a dramatically lower price point of $300. This is down from the previous price of $630 for consumers and $1,100 for businesses. Now both consumers and businesses (like VR arcades) will pay the same, lower base price, but businesses will pay an additional monthly license fee of $10 (or $100 when paid yearly).

This new price point, which is even below their Kickstarter price—which raised close to $150,000 earlier this year—brings the VR accessory to a range now accessible for some consumers instead of just hardcore enthusiasts. The company’s Kickstarter video gives a good overview of the vest—though of course it can’t physically push you backwards as dramatized therein.

Hardlight VR team members Morgan Sinko, Lucian Copeland, and John Schork | Image by Road to VR

CEO Lucian Copeland says the lower price has been achieved because the company was “able to reach the production milestones that made this possible earlier than expected.” John Schork, Hardlight’s director of partnerships, said the team also felt the desire to keep pace with recent headset price cuts from both HTC and Oculus.

The company says they’ve begun delivering their vest to Kickstarter backers, and that pre-orders at the new, lower price are expected for delivery in March and April.

Using the Mark III

Image by Road to VR

I got the chance to try out the latest vest while at the Hardlight VR office. While I did have some help putting on the vest, they pointed out that the straps are designed so that I could put it on myself. The straps also make the vest adjustable so that one size can fit different body types.

Image by Road to VR

With the vest on, I jumped into Sairento VR (2016) for a quick demo. Feeling vibrations emminante down my arm every time I fired a revolver was very cool and definitely made the experience better.

Hardlight has been working with the developers behind Sairento and other VR games to directly control the vest’s 16 haptic units. I got a quick walkthrough of the tools that the developers would use to create vibration patterns and was told that some developers were able to add basic haptic feedback after only one day of work.

All of the electronics on the vest are removable, making it easier to clean without fear of damaging the components. The haptic motors are also attached to a series of inner plates that are designed to provide a tighter connection between the vest and the body. Hardlight also plans to sell an optional wireless module for $100 that fits on the lower back of the vest and provides power as well.

Torso & Arm Tracking

In addition to being a haptic vest, the Mark III comes with sensors that enable position and orientation tracking for a player’s arms and torso—something which can only be roughly estimated using head and hand tracking alone.

While I didn’t get to try this technology for myself, their demonstration video appears to show some pretty accurate tracking, particularly with the elbows. The difficulty of realistic elbow tracking is why today you often see many games with Rayman-style floating hands and games which ignore the player’s torso as a hitbox.

Backpack PC Compatibility

Photo by Road to VR

While the Hardlight vest was designed primarily for VR experiences, the team explained that it could also be used for more traditional audio and video experiences through the use of a pass-through audio port. The vest interprets the volume and frequencies of sound to produce an accompanying vibration throughout the vest, allowing it to double as a general-purpose rumble vest for traditional PC or console gaming. One Hardlight VR engineer has even created a “massage subroutine” for the system.

The team shared that they are working with backpack PC manufacturers like HP, MSI, and Zotac to make compatible adapters for their haptic vest, which would likely be attractive to customers interested in employing the vest in commercial settings. I got to try one of the prototypes: the weight felt well distributed and very sturdy, which is a must when you are swinging around an expensive backpack PC.

Vision for the Future

Image by Road to VR

After demoing the Mark III vest, Hardlight VR founder and chief revenue officer, Morgan Sinko, took me to the company’s engineering lab where they’ve begun very early development on the next iteration of the haptics vest. In the lab, Morgan showed me a solenoid that he hoped would deliver “kick-my-ass haptics;” While typical vibration motors provide a rumbling and buzzing sensation, a solenoid could be used to deliver a single strong impulse, closer to the feeling of an actual impact. He described using the solenoid side-by-side with the existing vibration motors but having them each activate for different sensation patterns.

After our discussion about solenoids, Morgan then pulled out a thermoelectric cooling and heating plate. He placed it in my hand to demonstrate how quickly the off-the-shelf component could heat up or cool down. Morgan envisions a future version of the vest containing a matrix of these plates placed throughout the vest so that developers could add a sense of temperature to their VR experiences. One of the current challenges, he said, is safety, because when used at full power, these components could actually cause burns or frostbite.

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Throughout the discussion about future plans, Morgan also stressed that Hardlight is committed to continuing support for all of the current vest in use today. He also mentioned the need for future versions of the vest to be compatible with their existing SDK and software produced by Hardlight’s partners. Hardlight VR claims to have 27 software partners with some additional big name games coming soon.

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  • Xron

    Seems fun

  • Very nice! And the price is very competitive!

  • flamaest

    This item was tested on a YouTube show called projections and it was shown to be a piece of overpriced crap.

  • Matias Nassi

    The price seems more affordable now. The torso and arm tracking works impressively good as well based on the demo video. Now I’m wondering if they embedded some Lighthouse TS3633 or TS4231 sensors or if they are propietary sensors or just IMU units included as part of the suit…

    • Konchu

      if they are light house based it would be a great value considering vive trackers are 100 bucks a pop this could fill the roll of numerous units.

  • Jason Mercieca

    When a variety of vr games supports this vest i will surely buy it, good for even more immersive experience.

    • Gus Bisbal

      So this is the issue. Imagine you are a development group. You have a team lead, the code cutting masses, QA people, the continuous integration guys etc. You have all those people and they cost money to pay. Now ask them to devote some of their time and the cost of paying those people to making their game work with this vest. You have to work out how your engine will out put data to it, for it not to come up with false positives, ie go off when nothing is happening. Then you have to bug fix it, redevelop it, then realise the guys making the vest changed how they did it and you have to do it again etc. Then the team says, Ok look we know its a lot of work. We get it but if we get all those people with the vest wanting to buy the game then its all worth it… isn’t it? I mean how many people bought the vest with the knowledge that it didn’t work with any software but it will work once 50,000 people like you bought the vest waiting for the software people to start. Wait…. what …. no one wanted to do that? You mean no one wanted to buy it unless it worked first day. You mean we have to do all that work with not a single user being able to use it, not until we have built it! Dude…. you can’t be serious. We are already running behind schedule for this release and you want me to get my already stretched resources and put it into something that no one can use but might use IF we put it in there. GTFO. Seriously…. I have work to do.

      This is the problem with hardware people that don’t write their own middleware. The software guys are made responsible for making their hardware work and they aren’t in that business. This will fail till they write their own middleware. End of story. Or find a way around that. ie the pre-existing hooks into the engine are used which basically is a driver that acts like middleware. Either way, the hardware guys have to do some coding or else this will fail.

      • Jason Mercieca

        I completely agree with all your comment, that is a real problem and drawback.
        The only possible solution would be something like creating a plug-in for say Unity3D, so people can access the device capabilities in a fast simple manner, similar to VR tools that are available, I created a castle within a scence of a forest in VR, full locomotion also, why, well the tools makes it relatively easy to create that and more, if they implemented something like that i guess every developer would jump in just to give his game more potential, but if this is not the case i think this is one of those ideas that are wow but failed to make it into daylight…
        Hope the best..

        • Jon Palmer

          [Posted a year after Jason’s comment]
          I was one of the engineers building exactly what you’re talking about for Hardlight. That’s me in the tracking video even though the music was not my idea :P.

          We built plug-in tools that developers could drag and drop into their projects. Being a game developer myself, my target was for devs to be able to add haptic support in less than a few hours. I don’t think that was our failing point that hindered Hardlight’s chance of success.

          We had partners with a bunch of existing studios and some of them showed real promise (Sairento VR was amazing).

          I think it was more likely the price cuts to all the other major VR hardware that we couldn’t compete with as a small start up. There was a large expectation of ‘Oh, everything else got cheaper, why didnt this get cheaper too’. We were really trying to push the hardware envelope but the margins were too tight to establish enough profit off the hardware, manufacturing and distribution.

    • Edward Morgan

      Variety? When Rez VR supports it, I’ll buy the thing. One game, designed for exactly this peripheral fifteen years ago.

      • TigerGD

        In the meantime, you can connect several controllers to work as “trance vibrators” and split your audio out to tactile transducers.

        • Edward Morgan

          I keep meaning to hook up a bunch of XBox pads and drag in some elastic straps for that purpose. I mean, I SUPPOSE I could just cram one down my pants, but that is a little more intimate than I want to get with Rez(regardless of what others have done).

          Meanwhile, of course, Mizuguchi has a custom-made “synesthesia suit”.

  • Rafael Lorena

    Works with warthunder? I imagine the feeling of firing up the engines and a g’ish feeling when u pull 9g, any chipmode to add a chinese massage girl in the firmware? I like it hard!

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