An out-of-body-experience is the
feeling that the mind is separated from the body. It happens due to
psychological and neurological factors such as brain trauma, sensory
deprivation and the consumption of hallucinogenic drugs. However, virtual
reality also offers a similar experience, transporting the mind into scenarios
that only exist in the digital terrain while the body remains anchored to the
physical world. This ability allows for fascinating experiences such as
transforming oneself into a cow on the way to the slaughterhouse, which can
increase empathy with the animal world. However, it also represents one of the
major problems faced by technology adoption, since virtual dissociation between
body and mind is often associated with dizziness and vomiting.
Some strategies to solve this problem include dials which regulate the intensity level of the virtual experience in line with the user’s tolerance. However, the young Linda Franco proposes an opposing approach: instead of reducing the intensity, she proposes increasing the body’s connection with the virtual environment in order to minimize the feeling of separation. To do this, wearable technology is used to record and transmit information about body movements while at the same time providing physical feedback to increase the bond between body and mind. Based on this innovation, Franco has been chosen as one of the Innovators Under 35 Latam 2017 winners by the MIT Technology Review, Spanish edition
Through her company, Machina, Franco has created OBE (Out of Body Experience), a jacket with sensors, which has been designed more as an item of clothing than as a peripheral device. The idea is that its attractive design and portability will make consumers want to wear it all the time, and not only have it at home as if it were another game console controller. The accelerometers, piezoelectric textiles and network of vibration motors can be programmed for use beyond VR. "The possibilities are endless," Franco says.
Virtual reality is not Machina’s only focus. The company, which was started in 2012, became known for another one of its products in 2014, the MIDI Jacket, which allows the creation of music using sensors that pick up body movements. To arrive at this product, Franco recalls that she had to start by "completely understanding the way the technology is used and combining that with an in-depth understanding of the fashion industry". The MIDI Jacket was included in Wired magazine's selection of the most beautiful wearable tech for its well-thought out design.
Now Franco's company has gone a step further and uses the, further perfected, technology developed for this jacket, for wider applications, from VR, video games, body-piloted drones, to potential sports and health purposes. In the case of OBE, Machina offers a kit to software developers to give them the possibility to create new uses for their garment. To date, there are two universities that are collaborating with Machina so that their students can learn how to develop new applications.
For Peruvian physician, inventor and Innovators Under 35 Latin America 2017 jury member, Benjamín Castañeda, Franco's work fosters the type of innovation that can literally change the world.