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Trying On the Teslasuit, the Device Designed to Make You Feel Virtual Reality

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We’re supposed to laugh at new technologies, right? It helps the inventors and believers in the long run, allowing them to look back and say, “See, you all laughed at us.” If that's the case, then I will go on record as saying that I laughed at the Teslasuit when I first saw it featured in a Kickstarter video.

According to its Kickstarter campaign page, the Teslasuit is “the world’s first full-body haptic suit that lets you touch and feel the future of Virtual Reality and gaming.” In other words, it’s a device that transmits tactile stimuli to its wearer via electric pulses. The demo video in question is achingly futuristic. It includes hands-on testimonials from British celebrities oooooh-ing and ahhhhhhhh-ing while wearing the wetsuit-looking machine. "This is definitely the future," says soccer player Scott Brown in his thick Scottish brogue. Close your eyes, and it's easy to imagine him saying this after beaming someone up to the USS Enterprise:

If I chuckled while watching the video, it’s because I couldn't imagine wearing a tight black suit fitted with dozens of electrodes. However, I wasn’t laughing when I actually put a version of the Teslasuit on, with Tesla Studios co-founder Dimitree Marozau controlling the frequency and power of the electric pulses firing into my body from his tablet computer.

VIRTUAL REALITY, LITERALLY

Dimitree Marozau and his business partner, Teslasuit CEO Dimitri Mikhalchuk, met me in the midst of their whirlwind tour of America (they are based in the UK). They have taken their show on the road, demonstrating what they believe to be the future of virtual reality to interested parties across the West Coast. Our meeting was postponed after a visit from reality reality: Their car had been broken into in San Francisco’s Financial District, and much of their equipment was stolen. Still, they managed to fit me into their busy schedule, agreeing to demonstrate the suit for me on Sunday evening on short notice at a friend's apartment.

“We don’t sleep,” Marozau says with a chuckle. He and his team have been working “24/7 for three years straight,” though that doesn’t seem to slow him down. He speaks breathlessly with a Belorussian accent, and hearing him and (the somewhat calmer) Mikhalchuk wax lyrical about Tesla Studios' vision for the future is a trip. (It should be noted that Tesla Studios and the Teslasuit aren’t affiliated with Elon Musk or Tesla Motors … "yet," says Marozau.)

To Dimitree and Dimitri, the Teslasuit is a lot of things. They promote it primarily as a gaming device, but they also tease it as the future of personal massage therapy (“very useful in long-haul flights”), an engagement tool for filmmakers (“We went to Hollywood; there’s lots of things happening”), a must-have piece of equipment for astronauts (“Muscle atrophy is a big problem in space”), the logical next-step in immersion therapy (“It could be used to get rid of phobias”), and much, much more (“Our mission is to connect people. People who cannot experience simple pleasures”).

Some of their ideas may sound better than others. For example, using the suit as a messaging device that sends an electric pulse to a specific part of your body when you receive an email or text strikes me as a Pavlovian nightmare. But, as they are quick to tell me, this is just one of endless applications for the suit. “What we’ve built is a platform,” says Marozau. “This is like the computer, the iPhone. It gives you full freedom."

I ask about whether or not the suit could be used for watching pornography, partly because I assume everyone has asked them this question. Marozau confirms that everyone has in fact asked this, though he is somewhat more circumspect about the Teslasuit's potential XXX applications. "Developers are free to use the software as they please," he says, diplomatically.

Right now, the Teslasuit is intended for developers only. Besides having to wait for FDA approval to sell it directly to the consumer market, Marozau says they want to build a large network of developers and beta testers so they can create “an environment around the suit,” an open-sourced foundation pieced together through tinkering and trial-and-error.

It is to this end that, ideally, the Teslasuit works as a conduit—both literally and figuratively.

ELEMENTARY ELECTRODES

Perhaps the best way to understand the basic technology behind the Teslasuit’s hardware is by watching this infomercial for the Flex Belt ("It tones, it tightens, and it strengthens without me having to think about it!"):

The electrodes in the suit are not unlike the ones used in the ab belts that were all the rage some 10 to 15 years ago. An electric pulse transmitted to your skin causes the muscles to contract. That’s it. Before being shilled by infomercial hucksters promising six-packs, electric stimulation was commonly used by physical therapists to rehabilitate patients’ injured or atrophied muscles. "The technology has been around for over 20 years," Mikhalchuk says.

For our meeting, Dimitree and Dimitri brought just a Teslasuit jacket, one lined with 30 electrodes (a newer version of the jacket features 60 electrodes). Amazingly, it looks pretty cool. It’s sleek, and cut much like a motorcycle jacket, with no overt signs pointing to the fact that it’s filled with nodes and meant to be worn with a VR helmet. The Tesla Studios team includes people from the fashion industry, and their input is immediately apparent.

Marozau tells me this jacket was put together specifically for their trip to America. It was made in just 24 hours, he says, stressing that their manufacturing process is efficient and scalable. Their goal is to sell the suit for $500, a low price in order to lure as many developers onboard as possible. (For reference, the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift VR helmet with which the Teslasuit is ideally paired will sell for $600.) The suit supposedly lasts four days off one charge and is waterproof and washable. “This jacket has been washed 20 times,” Mikhalchuk tells me, perhaps sensing some apprehension on my part after learning about all the intimate demonstrations the suit has been subjected to the past few weeks around Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area.

Everything about the suit seems eminently reasonable (relatively), though there was one noticeable catch: I had to wear a wet T-shirt underneath it for my demo. The wet T-shirt primarily helps with conductivity, but it also prevents any irritation one might experience in the suit. If I was worried my first foray into haptic reality suits was going to be too normal, getting a tutorial from Marozau in a cramped bathroom on how to properly wet a T-shirt quickly fixed that. (Future models likely won’t require this step—there is a tiny tube poking out from the waistline that will pump in a lubricating element.)

After putting on the snug jacket—it was designed for Dimitree’s frame—I struggled to find the words to describe how I felt. “Like Iron Man?” Mikhalchuk asks, “Everyone says that.”

TUNE IN, TURN ON, ZIPPER UP

The author with Dimitree Marozau, Tesla Studios CEO and co-founder.

After strapping me into a belt that gives the jacket Bluetooth connectivity, Marozau syncs it to his tablet computer and starts to play with the knobs on the demo program’s interface. When he presses the shoulder on my little avatar, I feel a pulsing, like someone tapping me on the shoulder. He then moves to my avatar’s stomach, and the same thing happens there. He tweaks the power and frequency and revs it up to a point that almost makes me double over. “You will get used to it,” he says, “Like jumping into cold water. It will become normal.”

He’s right. Soon, I’m controlling the jacket myself, tapping sections on my avatar to bring about pulsing sensations in real life. It’s a peculiar out-of-body experience, like being tickled by your own ghost. But how does this translate to virtual reality?

Thanks to whoever broke into Dimitree and Dimitri’s car, I wasn’t able to find out. All their equipment (save for the jacket, which they had on them at the time of the break-in) was stolen, and though they were able to borrow an Oculus Rift and VR laptop, their virtual reality gaming demo wasn’t back up and running by the time they met with me.

They assure me it works, though I can only take their word for it. What I experienced was nothing like, say, the sensation of walking through a field of wheat or being splashed by a wave. “Reality is the way we measure it, this is quantum physics,” Marozau says. Our systems of neuro-chemical reactions for touch are pretty straight-forward; our brains combine it with other senses to supply the context and meaning. If the visual and other outside stimuli that correspond with touch are convincing enough, the project presupposes, a corresponding power and frequency from the electrodes could allow for a convincing virtual reality experience. 

A main goal of Tesla Studios—and this is far-horizon stuff—is to build a database of every tactile sensation on Earth. “It’s why we’re attracting beta testers and developers,” says Marozau. The hope is that, one day, they will know which electric pulse corresponds to a feather, what combination of power and frequency translates to sand, or bubble wrap, or an exploding paintball. “This is big data analysis,” he says. “We want to get all this data, just amalgamate it and analyze and find out the patterns. There’s lots of work ahead.”

Therein lies the most interesting aspect of the Teslasuit, whether or not the Teslasuit will be the medium through which it’s achieved. If we can fit an entire world of sensations in the cloud, where does that lead us? At what point does the “V” in “VR” begin to fade away? Dimitree and Dimitri may not have the answers right now, though they love asking the questions.

Dimitree and Dimitri’s tour of America is far from over. After our meeting they have to hurry out and prepare for the next day’s presentation to a group of media executives, one that will include a demonstration of a “trans-Atlantic hug” with someone wearing the suit in the UK. I give them back the Teslasuit jacket that will be used in this "tele-haptic" exchange and say goodbye. My shirt is still sopping wet.

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6 Things Americans Should Know About Net Neutrality
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Net neutrality is back in the news, as Ajit Pai—the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and a noted net neutrality opponent—has announced that he plans to propose sweeping deregulations during a meeting in December 2017. The measures—which will fundamentally change the way consumers and businesses use and pay for internet access—are expected to pass the small committee and possibly take effect early in 2018. Here's a brief explanation of what net neutrality is, and what the debate over it is all about.

1. IT'S NOT A LAW; IT'S A PRINCIPLE

Net neutrality is a principle in the same way that "freedom of speech" is. We have laws that enforce net neutrality (as we do for freedom of speech), but it's important to understand that it is a concept rather than a specific law.

2. IT'S ABOUT REGULATING ACCESS TO THE INTERNET

Fundamentally, net neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not be allowed to prioritize one kind of data traffic over another. This also means they cannot block services purely for business reasons.

To give a simple example, let's say your ISP also sells cable TV service. That ISP might want to slow down your internet access to competing online TV services (or make you pay extra if you want smooth access to them). Net neutrality means that the ISP can't limit your access to online services. Specifically, it means the FCC, which regulates the ISPs, can write rules to prevent ISPs from preferring certain services—and the FCC did just that in 2015.

Proponents often talk about net neutrality as a "level playing field" for online services to compete. This leaves ISPs in a position where they are providing a commodity service—access to the internet under specific FCC regulations—and that is not always a lucrative business to be in.

3. INTERNET PROVIDERS GENERALLY OPPOSE NET NEUTRALITY

In 2014 and 2015, there was a major discussion of net neutrality that led to new FCC rules enforcing net neutrality. These rules were opposed by companies including AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon. The whole thing came about because Verizon sued the FCC over a previous set of rules and ended up, years later, being governed by even stricter regulations.

The opposing companies see net neutrality as unnecessary and burdensome regulation that will ultimately cost consumers in the end. Further, they have sometimes promoted the idea of creating "fast lanes" for certain kinds of content as a category of innovation that is blocked by net neutrality rules.

4. TECH COMPANIES GENERALLY LOVE NET NEUTRALITY

In support of those 2015 net neutrality rules were companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Twitter, Vimeo, and Yahoo. These companies often argue that net neutrality has always been the de facto policy that allowed them to establish their businesses—and thus in turn should allow new businesses to emerge online in the future.

On May 7, 2014, more than 100 companies sent an open letter to the FCC "to express our support for a free and open internet":

Over the past twenty years, American innovators have created countless Internet-based applications, content offerings, and services that are used around the world. These innovations have created enormous value for Internet users, fueled economic growth, and made our Internet companies global leaders. The innovation we have seen to date happened in a world without discrimination. An open Internet has also been a platform for free speech and opportunity for billions of users.

5. THE FCC CHAIR ONCE QUOTED EMPEROR PALPATINE

Ajit Pai, who was one of the recipients of that open letter above and is now Chairman of the FCC, quoted Emperor Palpatine from Return of the Jedi when the 2015 rules supporting net neutrality were first codified. (At the time he was an FCC Commissioner.) Pai said, "Young fool ... Only now, at the end, do you understand." His point was that once the rules went into effect, they could have the opposite consequence of what their proponents intended.

The Star Wars quote-off continued when a Fight for the Future representative chimed in. As The Guardian wrote in 2015 (emphasis added):

Referring to Pai's comments Evan Greer, campaigns director at Fight for the Future, said: "What they didn't know is that when they struck down the last rules we would come back more powerful than they could possibly imagine."

6. THE TWO SIDES DISAGREE ABOUT WHAT NET NEUTRALITY'S EFFECTS ARE

The Star Wars quotes above get at a key point of the net neutrality debate: Pai believes that net neutrality stifles innovation. He was quoted in 2015 in the wake of the new net neutrality rules as saying, "permission-less innovation is a thing of the past."

Pai's statement directly contradicts the stated position of net neutrality proponents, who see net neutrality as a driver of innovation. In their open letter mentioned above, they wrote, "The Commission’s long-standing commitment and actions undertaken to protect the open Internet are a central reason why the Internet remains an engine of entrepreneurship and economic growth."

In December 2016, Pai gave a speech promising to "fire up the weed whacker" to remove FCC regulations related to net neutrality. He stated that the FCC had engaged in "regulatory overreach" in its rules governing internet access.

For previous coverage of net neutrality, check out our articles What Is Net Neutrality? and What the FCC's Net Neutrality Decision Means.

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This AI Tool Will Help You Write a Winning Resume
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For job seekers, crafting that perfect resume can be an exercise in frustration. Should you try to be a little conversational? Is your list of past jobs too long? Are there keywords that employers embrace—or resist? Like most human-based tasks, it could probably benefit from a little AI consultation.

Fast Company reports that a new start-up called Leap is prepared to offer exactly that. The project—started by two former Google engineers—promises to provide both potential minions and their bosses better ways to communicate and match job needs to skills. Upload a resume and Leap will begin to make suggestions (via highlighted boxes) on where to snip text, where to emphasize specific skills, and roughly 100 other ways to create a resume that stands out from the pile.

If Leap stopped there, it would be a valuable addition to a professional's toolbox. But the company is taking it a step further, offering to distribute the resume to employers who are looking for the skills and traits specific to that individual. They'll even elaborate on why that person is a good fit for the position being solicited. If the company hires their endorsee, they'll take a recruiter's cut of their first year's wages. (It's free to job seekers.)

Although the service is new, Leap says it's had a 70 percent success rate landing its users an interview. The rest is up to you.

[h/t Fast Company]

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