This was accomplished by placing eight sensors in the physician's hand controller (what Ombrellaro describes as a "tactile mouse") that touch different parts of the hand. The vest likewise includes dozens of sensors—64 in the abdominal region alone. Using software, the hand can be moved across the vest like a cursor across a computer screen, touching and probing sensors along the way. Ombrellaro calls the abdomen the body's "black box," where doctors are able to gather a wealth of information simply by probing with their fingers. Abnormal resistance in the abdomen, for example, can point to the presence of tumors as well as enlarged organs.
TouchNetworks is still seeking Food and Drug Administration approval for the medical vest, a process that could delay its medical use for several years. In the meantime, the company developed the 3rdSpace vest, a simplified version to be used in video games. Ombrellaro says he reasoned, "If we could do bidirectional touch for medical applications, why couldn't we do it in one direction for a video game?"
To pursue entertainment uses for the vest technology, Ombrellaro set up the TN Games division within TouchNetworks and delivered a prototype version of the vest last December. To ensure that gamers would be able to use the vest, TN Games worked with dot3 labs, LLC, in Las Vegas to create 3rd Space Incursion, a futuristic first-person shooter game that allows players feel the impact of being shot. "It's a way to showcase our technology," Ombrellaro says. The vest's eight impact points correspond to vital organs such as the heart, liver and lungs. "If a character in the game shoots you from behind," he notes, "you'll feel it."
The vest connects to PCs via a USB connection and is not yet available for most Apple computers. It does, however, work with Apple computers using Intel chipsets that can run Windows natively. TN Games plans to offer a version of the vest that delivers blows at 45 psi (3.2 kg/cm2) for players who want a greater sensation. Other possibilities include developing vests for military and law enforcement training.
Ombrellaro says that the vest technology will evolve beyond shooter games and will eventually be available for flight-simulation and racing games as well as role-playing and children's games.