CES 2015: Sixense Shows off Distortion Correction with STEM Motion Controller (video)


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Sixense, creators of the tech behind the Razer Hydra, and the upcoming STEM motion controller, gave us a demo showing how STEM’s new distortion correction method can make a huge difference in environments with magnetic distortion.

In the early days of the first Oculus Rift development kit, the DK1, it was easy to find a fun VR demo that would make use of the Razer Hydra, an accurate motion input controller that uses magnetic tracking technology. And while the Hydra gets less use these days as developers wait excitedly for the next-gen STEM system, it seemed like the Hydra was either loved or hated depending upon who you talked to.

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For every person who, like me, was in the ‘love’ camp on account of the unit’s impressively accurate, drift-free tracking, it seemed there would be someone who complained of inaccuracies. The issue, in many cases it seems, was blamed on magnetic interference from surrounding electrical and metallic objects. Such objects can distort the magnetic field employed by magnetic tracking devices like the Hydra.

With the forthcoming STEM system, Sixense has made an upgrade that appears to cut through distortion like a hot knife through butter. Sixense’s Danny Woodall showed us the difference in tracking with and without distortion correction.

From what I understand, thanks to the addition of an on-board IMU, the controller consistently knows the gravity vector (which direction is down). This gives it a reference point to compare against. When the magnetic tracking suggests that the unit is tilting up or down (in this case, due to magnetic distortion) the IMU functions as a double check. When the two agree, tilting gets the green light. When they disagree, the known downward direction from the IMU is used to as a reference to compensate.

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Regarding shipping, Sixense’s Danny Woodall says that “by the end of the month we should be shipping out all of the prototype units. And then right after that we’ll be starting to push out all the Kickstarter units to everyone else that’s pledged. I think probably early March hopefully most people will start having systems show up at their doorsteps.”

We’ll be looking forward to seeing how STEM’s distortion correction works across a number of varying environments as Kickstarter  backers start to get their hands on the system.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • pittsburghjoe

    I just bought into STEM because of this article. Thanks :) 580 bucks but will be worth it.

  • weatherstone

    Hi Ben I would like to know if you or anyone at the Road to VR could take a look at the IR gesture module of the controller on playgrifta.com

    • Ben Lang

      Interesting, I’m looking into this. Thanks for the tip.

  • The wait is real. I did expect my STEM reward to arrive sometime last year, but alas, reality does not agree :) The system seems to work very well though, and I’m really happy they’ve done the changes and updates they have, it looks to be a better product because of it. Might also explain the increased cost compared to what I had to pay as a backer, phew, no regrets there!

    I do wonder though, you have personally run demos with a tracker on your head right? I’ve realized that this is a pretty good thing to do, as to not have to synchronise two tracking systems. I guess they can sync up with the tracking of the DK2 with the pack on the head… would be interesting to hear what they actually use it for. Oh, and how well does it compare to the built in tracking of the DK2? I’m curious about that, as it feels like a pack on the head will make stuff like Half-Life VR a non-calibration-needy experience xD

    • Alkapwn

      I think the ideal use for those of us that went with the third tracker option would be either chest or waist. If developers use the chest method then one would have:

      – Directional walking (with Omni)
      – Positional head tracking
      – Positional upper body tracking for direction

      This in essence allows you to walk in one direction while body is turned in another, while looking in a completely different direction. Or also known as real life movement replication. So very excited!

      • William Wallace

        This with osvr. Game over facerift.

    • Ben Lang

      I didn’t have time to scrutinize the head tracking as much as I wanted to, but next time I have my hands on it I will.

  • mellott124

    I tried this at CES as well. Awesome demo. Its everything I hoped the Razor version was and more. I’ll be buying one as soon as I get home.

  • pittsburghjoe
  • weatherstone

    There is a very good reason why Oculus Rift ditched the magnets, Infrared is the only system that has low enough latency for VR applications and its inexpensive The same system we intend to use for our hand-tracking gamepad http://www.playgrifta.com