THE INQUIRER has been lucky enough to have sat down with a very interesting research group at the University of Sussex, who are championing the use of a new form of motion capture technology, very different from the likes of Nintendo's Wii or Microsoft's upcoming Project Natal.
The Emove project is a research collaboration effort between Animazoo UK and the University of Sussex Centre for Computer Graphics, with a focus on developing an upper body inertial 'Personal Motion Capture System' at a price realistic for consumer use.
The INQ had the pleasure of talking with the research group lead, Dr Martin White, and two of his young research assistants, Jake Slack and Zeeshan Patoli.
Upon entering the team's environment we were immediately surprised to see prototype suits hanging near the post-grad's desks, which they immediately slipped on in under 30 seconds.
The 'Hypersuit' fits around the arms, along with a soft cap attachment for head movement feedback, and a centred-chest operations box that includes the communications via Bluetooth for interaction with an individual's PC. Each of the arms has a joystick-type device with buttons fitted for further interaction.
Soon, both Slack and Patoli had brought up a networked instance of their main demo game 'Hyperfighter' on each of their standard PCs. Hyperfighter is a simple example of the suit's use in an archery game, wherein each character can retrieve an arrow from their back-placed quiver when 'grasping' for the arrow, and move their hands in typical archery fashion and fire arrows at their opponent - an opponent standing on a rotating plinth some distance away, who is also firing back at you. Fortunately raising your arm brings up a blocking movement using a shield. In fact, you can even grasp for an arrow stuck in your shield and use it to fire back at your opponent.
Hyperfighter has been produced in-house at the University of Sussex using the Disney-developed 3D engine Panda3D, though the team is migrating to the Reality engine, demonstrating a range of software tools that can be used to develop for the suit.
We were also lucky enough to see a ten-pin bowling demo, which had been mocked up and was playable within only a week, and is testimony to the simplicity for which the device can be programmed.
There appeared to be very little noticeable lag between the suit and actions on-screen, giving almost instant user interaction. Also, it appears the team has tested the product on complete novices who have difficulty with typical first-person-shooter games and have found the users immediately completely at home using the suit, a boon for the gaming generation gap that currently exists.
The team wasn't dismissive of competing future Microsoft and Sony motion-capture developments. Slack commented, "Natal can measure both whole body translations and bone rotations but it remains to be seen how accurate their system will be, with demonstrations suggesting there are some latency issues and inaccuracies in certain body positions." Something we didn't find visible in the very early demonstrations of the Hypersuit.
Importantly, the team is aware that uptake of the suit will be dependent on delivering good software and games. Possibly dozens of micro-games in an online multiplayer portal will be produced by Animazoo and Sussex University, but a key deliverable for the team is an open SDK that consumers and developers alike can use to produce more and more software for the device.
Delivering the suit at a cost level suitable for consumers is also a currently key goal for the team, aiming for a price point under $300 for mass-market uptake of the suit, and ultimately the suit's SDK.
This technology isn't being considered only for gaming. Remote virtual puppeteering software, with lipsync via an attached microphone and software translation, has already been demonstrated, and Dr White feels the suit could gain use in multiple different sectors, including industrial and medical uses.
The motion capture research group has their own Youtube page available for the public to view here. In the video, you can see a networked game of Hyperfighter being played by Slack and Patoli, with Dr White commentating on their performance. µ