Miraisens shows off 3D haptic feedback controller at GDC with mixed results

by Will Mason • March 2nd, 2015

Input for VR will be one of the big hot topics this year at the Game Developers Conference, and there will be a number of companies vying for the ultimate input device (although, that may not truly be possible for a long time). One of the companies looking to establish itself at the conference is Miraisens, Inc. who have developed a motion controller complete with “3D haptic feedback.” I had a chance to try the controller, which is still in a beta stage,  and while I was impressed by the haptics I found that the accuracy and ergonomics of the controller itself to be far less than ideal.

The "black hole" demo was probably the most impressive that I was shown

The “black hole” demo was the most impressive that I was shown

In it’s current form (the version featured on the website has a very different look to it), the device is incredibly small, about the size of a half dollar. When the company representative handed me the device I was told to “hold it delicately, with three fingers.” Taking the device in my hand I struggled slightly to balance it at first, it felt too small to be held in this way. But I persisted, and when the demo started up the device almost shot out of my hand. In the first demo I was shown, a swirling cloud of gas is being pulled down into a black hole. Holding the device, I immediately felt it being pulled directly in, as if it magnetically, towards the event horizon. The pull from the haptics in the device was so strong that it really emphasized the device’s ergonomic shortcomings, as it was truly difficult to easily maintain a stronghold on the device as it was pulled from me. Then the demoer shifted the direction of the gravitational pull, this time pulling up. Same thing, it felt as if someone had attached a string to my hand and pulled up.

The x-axis haptics are not as good as those on the y-axis, but it still is effective.

The x-axis haptics are not as good as those on the y-axis, but it still is effective.

Along the y-axis, the device’s haptics performed surprisingly well. But it was less so along the x-axis. As I simply did not feel the same amount of pull as I did when the haptics were leading me up or down. That being said, in another demo where I held the device slightly differently for comfort purposes I was able to almost ‘feel’ the weight of a rock in my hand, as the concentrated vibrations from the device exerted downward force on my palm. That is what is key to their technology, the ability to provide dimensionality to rumble based haptics.

There are a number of different haptic functions, including pulling and pushing which all feel different with the controller.

There are a number of different haptic functions, including pulling and pushing which all feel different with the controller.

While this controller is more than likely not the ultimate solution for virtual reality input, the haptics technology that they used within it could rightfully be applied to any number of controller solutions and would represent an improvement over the majority of what is available. Speaking with the company, they have said they are speaking with a number of leading controller manufacturers about adding their haptic technology to preexisting, and developing controls. They could not at this time discuss any further specifics. While none of the demos that I was shown in this early preview were VR related the company expressed that they will have VR demos for the controller when the show floor opens Wednesday. For those interested in exploring this haptics technology, the company is planning a beta release for this April with an SDK that will be open for development on the system.

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