Northern Digital is a Waterloo, Canada-based manufacturer of 3D measurement devices, and while the company has mainly focused on creating for various industries such as medicine and aeronautics throughout their 35 years of existence, they’ve recently unveiled a reference design for a magnetic tracking system for VR headsets and controllers.

The reference design, dubbed Atraxa, is available either as an enclosed controller, or as three bare PCB components: two trackers, and a single receiver. Since the reference design is intended for OEMs, you won’t be able to buy this as a consumer, at least not until a third-party company integrates and sells it.

As an enclosed unit, NDI’s prototype housing isn’t anything to write home about in terms of ergonomics, as they look more than a bit like Wiimotes. For the sake of a demo of the company’s underlying tech though, it was more than enough to show what the system was capable of. And unlike Wiimotes, Atraxa tracks the user’s hand movements in 6DOF, and to surprisingly good effect.

How It Works

At NDI’s booth the company was demoing Beat Saber and The Lab, two games I’m all too familiar with. I have a pretty good sense of when I’m hitting Beat Saber’s flying cubes correctly, or where an arrow ought to land when I’m shooting down paper enemies in Long Bow. It was nice to see them using games I both know and love to serve as hard baselines for what the system should be able to do.

Image courtesy NDI

After putting the controllers through their paces in both games, it was clear to me the Atraxa controllers offer an acceptable level of performance, even if they fall short of the bar set by Rift and Vive tracking. I was slicing Beat Saber’s blocks with confidence, and bringing the controllers close to my face to nock and fire arrows at the hordes or paper enemies in Long Bow.

It wasn’t enough to be called ‘the perfect solution’, as there were a few brief moments when Atraxa would end up a few centimeters away from their actual position in the physical world before quickly snapping back to their actual anchored positions. This only happened twice during my demo, but it was enough to leave me with the impression that it was somewhere around PSVR’s Move in tracking accuracy and latency, but below all other major PC VR motion controllers out now.

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Image courtesy NDI

So while Atraxa may not be the most precise solution, developers creating apps for standalone headsets with optical or ultrasonic controller tracking are no doubt designing their games to play well with a limitation in mind: you can’t occlude your controllers, or put them anywhere outside of the camera sensors’ tracking volume and maintain 6DOF. Atraxa’s magnetic tracking on the other hand, doesn’t bump into such occlusion issues. I was pushing the controllers to what would be a clear barrier for others, including putting them behind my back, behind my head, and in the ‘holstered’ position by my sides—all things that often challenge optical inside-out controller tracking because of limited field of view.

An interesting aside: an NDI spokesperson told me Atraxa was already integrated into XR headset(s) on the market today. Just which ones, the company won’t say, although there aren’t many that use this type of EM/IMU sensor fusion. In fact, Magic Leap is so far the only major headset on the market that makes use of the technology in their Magic Leap Control.

So while it may not be a perfect solution, the trade-offs here may very well be justified by hardware producers looking for a ready-built tracking solution that’s capable of truly occlusion-free tracking with accuracy that’s acceptable for the right use-cases.

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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 3,500 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • Jake Richardson

    I’d be interested in seeing this compared to the razer hydra which uses a similar magnetic field tracking solution. How does the tracking compare? Are the controllers wireless? Is it feasible to set up boundaries or map a play space? I do like the idea of the receiver module being attached to the headset instead of being placed on the desk as one does with the hydra.

    • mellott124

      Much better than Hydra. Similar to SixSense Stem

  • Suitch

    They need to hire a better lead designer, if they want the shell to be usable. WiiMotes/ViveWands have proven inferior to Touch-like controllers in terms of ergonomics. If they are just trying to sell the tech to other manufacturers, however, it doesn’t matter.

    I am glad to see I wasn’t the only person who thought occlusion issues on mobile headsets needs answered sooner rather than later.

    • care package

      It’s just a prototype for demo’ing.

    • Lucidfeuer

      It’s irrelevant, they’re selling a component for OEM not a controller.

  • I wonder how feasible it would be to add this as a fallback tracking system on Inside Out headsets. Although the benefits might not be worth the extra complexity. Cool tech none the less.

    • impurekind

      Yeah, it’s continuing to boggle my mind that no currently solutions seem to use a combination of the two. It seems kinda elusively obvious as likely one of the best all round ways to track VR controllers from what I can tell.

      • mellott124

        Metals are a problem. Magnetic has been used in military for 30 years. The best tracking depends on the application. Nothing is best for all situations.

    • Florence S. Nielson

      watch Mary Poppins Returns HD 2018 (*available 1080p*).with the best quality …………
      click here –>

  • kontis

    The greatest potential of magnetic tracking is in sex industry because of obvious occlusion problems that vision-based tracking may never solve.
    Teledildonics patent has expired, so…

  • mellott124

    I didn’t realize but these guys are the Ascension tracking folks. They’ve been in tracking for a long long time.

  • JesuSaveSouls

    I would like to get some if compatible with vridge with steamvr and on the daydream os.

    • jj

      nobody cares about daydream os anymore…. phone vr is a very crappy rep for vr and most want it dead.

      • Downvote King

        This guy literally just said he wants one for Daydream

      • Proof XR Lab

        I’m sure the 6 Daydream owners care ;)

    • Martinko Pcik

      They were showing the 6DOF controllers tracking on Daydream unit at CES. The technology works on any android, so it means it’s ready for mobile devices. No external devices needed (other than USB connected receiver )

      • Do you have a company or link?

        • Martinko Pcik

          They are not showing it working on a Daydream on their website though.

          • Thanks. I requested developer kit but the kit looks much less developed than what they are showing here, but it also it allows much flexibility in the type of controller you can create. If the GPIO is versatile enough, I will make a couple of gloves with them allowing gestures and finger tapping.


  • impurekind

    Well, the near ideal solution is there in among all these designs if people pay attention: Combine this kind of thing alongside the [external or headset] sensor based tracking that most other VR controllers currently use. Surely that would give us the best of both worlds and be nigh on perfect for future standalone VR headsets.

  • Firestorm185

    *cough* anyone else see wiimotes at first, there? *cough*

    • Martinko Pcik

      Sure. It’s just a prototype for demoing. They are selling the technology to OEMs and not interested in selling controllers.

  • Martinko Pcik

    I believe that glitch he noticed twice in the demo was due to challenging bluetooth communication environment at CES.

  • brandon9271

    Maybe these won’t be vaporware like the SixSense stuff

  • oompah

    for me, any controller that does not look nor function like Xbox controller
    is a DUD
    why not add 6DOF in Xboxlike controller which most ppl r used to
    that’d be an instant hit

  • Downvote King

    It’s a poor argument no matter which way you look at it. In numbers alone there are many times more Daydream devices un consumer’s hands thanVive or Rift. Cell phone VR is very much alive, and likely here to stay. Gear VR sells even better than Daydream. The crux comes when you can get an Oculus Quest type experience from a cell phone headset. Right now they are still on par with Oculus Go. Mostly I thought it was an ignorant thing to say to someone who just expressed interest in it.

  • You ruined the article comparing it to Sixense. It is incredible that year after year those of us who funded their Kickstarter, watched them continue to show the same old prototypes, add new mobile prototypes, while continuing to spend good money for ample floor space at GDC and other venues, yet never ever complete a production prototype. It would really anger me deep down if this is licensed from them since the only do “consulting” now.