They say stories can come to life, and well, one group of MIT students have taken that idiom to an entirely new level. The team of Makers has recently created a wearable book that uses networked sensors and actuators to create a sort of cyberpunk-like Neverending Story, blurring the line between the bodies of a reader and protagonist.
The sensory fiction project — which built around James Tiptree’s The Girl Who Was Plugged In — was designed by Felix Heibeck, Alexis Hope, Julie Legault and Sophia Brueckner in the context of MIT’s Science Fiction To Science Fabrication class.
“You feel this story in your gut,” Hope recently told FastCoDesign. “It is an amazing example of the power of fiction to make us feel and empathize with a protagonist. Because our imaginations and emotions were so strongly moved by this story, we wondered how we could heighten the experience.”
The “augmented book” portrays the scenery and sets the mood, while the wearable enables the reader to experience the protagonist’s physiological emotions unlike ever before.
According to LaBarre, the current sensory fiction prototype comprises a vest that plugs into a computerized copy of Tiptree’s novella. The vest — controlled by an [Atmel based] Arduino board — swells, contracts, vibrates, heats up or cools down as the pages of the book are turned.
Aside from 150 programmable LEDs to create ambient light based on changing setting and mood, the book/wearable support a number of outputs, including sound, a personal heating device to change skin temperature, vibration to influence heart rate, and a compression system to convey tightness or loosening through pressurized airbags.
“Traditionally, fiction creates and induces emotions and empathy through words and images… the Sensory Fiction author is provided with new means of conveying plot, mood, and emotion while still allowing space for the reader’s imagination. These tools can be wielded to create an immersive storytelling experience tailored to the reader,” the team writes.
Interested in learning more? You can read up on the whimsical Maker project here.