The Oculus Rift has ignited a new round of excitement in virtual reality — but a major issue with the device is that its reliance on keyboards, mice, and traditional gaming controllers holds back just how immersive the headset can be. However, a small Singapore-based company says it has an answer to Oculus' problem. Intellect Motion has developed a hand-held device called iMotion that brings motion controls to Oculus Rift — or to any camera-equipped Mac or PC. To actually get its controller into the public's hands, the startup launched a $100,000 Kickstarter project this evening.
The iMotion hardware is about the size of an Apple Magic Mouse, with Velcro straps to secure it to your palm. In its current prototype stage, iMotion uses your motion to control a cursor, or a character's movement in a game, while mouse clicks and button presses are replaced by dropping a finger down to cover one of three LED lights built into the face of the device. This all works thanks to motion tracking software the company has built that uses standard webcams to follow the controller's LED lights.
It works PCs now, with the promise of tablets someday too
Alexander Khromenkov, Intellect Motion's chief executive, tells The Verge that his firm's combination of hardware and software will allow any camera already built into your laptop — and eventually Android smartphones and tablets — to measure precisely where the iMotion controller is and what's being done with it. While Khromenkov says that iMotion will be an ideal accessory for Oculus Rift, he notes that his nine-person was inspired to build the controller by the hugely influential sci-fi film Minority Report.
Of course, Intellect Motion isn't alone in its bid to popularize motion controlled computing. Elon Musk recently paired Oculus Rift with the Leap Motion controller to mimic the gesture-controlled design lab depicted in the Iron Man movies, while arguing that motion control paired with virtual reality could lead to breakthroughs in design and manufacturing. Khromenkov says he sees the same potential as Musk, but at this point he’s focused specifically on producing gaming hardware that can sell for about $80 per device — which is where Kickstarter comes into the picture.
The startup has built ready-for-production prototypes, and it's hoping Kickstarter will both fund its first run of consumer hardware and inspire developers to make their games compatible with iMotion. Everyone who contributes to the company's Kickstarter campaign will get access to the iMotion SDK, which Khromenkov says will allow the controller to be used with any piece of Mac, PC, or Linux software out there.
We tested out the concept hardware while playing Angry Birds and a first-person shooter on a Windows 8 laptop — and in each demo iMotion was fast and accurate, though this new method of play took a few minutes to get used to. The controller has a built-in gyroscope and accelerometer, as well as four haptic feedback pads on the palm-resting side. Any gamer who has an Oculus Rift headset on risks running into their living room furniture during gameplay — which is why Khromenkov says he's building a software feature that will send vibrating alerts to iMotion when players approach the borders of a virtual play space they've defined.
The CEO said as many as four iMotion controllers can be used at a time and that he envisions Oculus Rift owners wearing one iMotion on each hand and a third as a belt buckle. "Say you're in a shooting game and you get hit from the left — the left controller will vibrate to let you know," he says. "Or in a boxing game, you can actually punch rather than hitting a button. This is how virtual reality should work."