Nintendo’s upcoming Labo VR Kit for Switch includes a trove of creative VR content along with six ‘build it yourself’ cardboard accessories which are paired with VR experiences that work together with them. One of the accessories might look like a goofy ‘elephant’, but a closer look reveals a genius makeshift 6DOF controller made from some cardboard, stickers, and the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers.
You gotta give Nintendo props for their outside of the (cardboard) box thinking. The Labo program itself is already ‘out there’—it aims to deliver family friendly fun and learning by with built-it-yourself cardboard accessories, powered by Switch, which make for novel hands-on experiences. It’s part arts and crafts, part technology, and uniquely Nintendo.
Their newest Labo kit, which is entirely based around VR, embodies the Labo spirit with a creative solution for a makeshift 6DOF controller which gives users a way to reach into VR.
The ‘elephant’ accessory, which is part of the complete Labo VR Kit currently available for pre-order, looks silly at first glance, but a closer inspection reveals that it was likely only made to look like an elephant to contextualize what’s actually a clever way to achieve 6DOF input with little more than the Switch, cardboard, stickers, and the Joy-Con controllers.
With the Switch in the holder as the VR viewer, the two Joy-Con controllers are placed in the ‘trunk’ of the elephant which has two joints. Because the Joy-Con controllers each have an IMU inside, and because the positions of the joints are known, inverse kinematics can be used to mathematically determine the position of the entire trunk.
But if that’s all they did, the system would be prone to ‘drift’—where it’s orientation would be unreliable over time—which is what the white dots on the ‘face’ of the ‘elephant’ are used for. The right Joy-Con controller is equipped with an IR sensor on the bottom, and the controller’s position in the trunk is oriented toward the IR-reflective dots (which are a known distance from the Switch itself, because of the known size of the cardboard pieces) which gives the whole trunk a static reference point for drift correction. Conceptually, it’s the same function that the external tracking sensors for the Rift and Vive are used for.
The result of this inventive cobbling is a positionally tracked controller which offers 6DOF input into the virtual world as seen through the Switch. In the games that ship with the Labo VR Kit, we can see the ‘elephant’ being used for 3D painting and a physics puzzle game which uses 6DOF input to allow players to place platforms to guide balls to a goal.
Granted, we don’t how well this makeshift 6DOF controller really works just yet—the kit doesn’t ship until April 12th—but I’m happy to give credit to this creative approach which embodies what Nintendo is trying to do with Labo in the first place: give kids opportunities to learn and be inventive through play.