A six-person team of Samsung employees set out to solve one of the Gear VR headset's biggest problems, motion control, and they've come very close to succeeding. Their solution, a controller called the Rink shown this week at CES, brings full 360-degree hand movements and finger tracking to Samsung's smartphone-based virtual reality platform. The controller isn't perfect. Yet it does wonders for closing the gap between the most accessible VR headset on the market and higher-end models like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
Rink isn't a consumer product right now. It's a prototype from Samsung's Creative Lab, which is an in-house incubator that lets company employees play with ambitious ideas and turn them into full-fledged startups. The team came up with a module that sits atop the Gear VR headset and communicates with a pair of controllers, which track most of your fingers with a good degree of precision. To interact with objects in the virtual world, you clench your fist up and set off a trigger in the process.
In our demo on the CES show floor, we explored a virtual lab inspired by the futuristic user interface found in the Iron Man films before taking to the skies for some aerial combat. To shoot blasts of energy from my palms and take out enemy opponents, I made a fist and then released my fingers in a quick outward motion. The Rink team only has one demo it's been working on in seclusion, but it's a versatile enough experience to get a sense of how low-cost motion control can take a VR game from subpar to solid.
The Rink is very much a work in progress
The Rink is very much a work in progress. The demo didn't work the first time I put the Gear VR headset on, and the demo team needed to reset the whole rig and pair two new Rink controllers before trying again. While playing, you can feel the obvious difference in quality between the prototype and something polished like Oculus Touch. But for something designed for a purposefully non-premium headset — one that costs only $100 — the Rink provides a major upgrade in immersion with a lot of developer potential. Here's hoping it becomes a real product we can buy in the near future.