Research shows that reading a novel can trick your brain into thinking your body is having the same experiences as the protagonist.
A student project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is heightening that experience with Sensory Fiction, "a new means of conveying plot, mood and emotion while still allowing space for the reader's imagination," according to the project website.
Felix Heibeck, Alexis Hope and Julie Legault created a working prototype of Sensory Fiction as part of the MIT Media Lab's Science Fiction to Science Fabrication class.
The prototype consists of an "augmented" book that portrays scenery and sets mood and a wearable device (shown at right) that enables the reader to experience the protagonist's physiological emotions.
The students chose James Tiptree's "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" as the prototype story and programmed a network of sensors to respond in certain ways depending on what page the reader is on.
The book's cover is equipped with 150 LED lights and also emits sounds to reflect the story.
Changes in the protagonist's emotional or physical state trigger actions on the wearable device. There are vibrations to influence heart rate, a personal heating device to affect skin temperature, and a compression system that inflates to mimic the constrictive feeling of fear.
Tiptree's story was chosen for the project because the main character experiences a variety of settings and emotions that range from love to despair.
Other student projects from the Science Fiction to Science Fabrication class included a robotic arm similar to one from "Star Wars" and a version of Ice-9 from Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat’s Cradle."
Watch Sensory Fiction in action in the video below.
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