In what might be the longest Kickstarter campaign conclusion to date, more than four years following estimated deliveries of the STEM VR controller, Sixense says they will fully refund all backers and pre-orders.

Sixense was once a name central to the early VR community. The company built the technology behind the magnetically tracked Razer Hydra controller which was one of the only consumer-available 6DOF controllers available when the first Oculus Rift development kit (DK1) started shipping.

gdc 2013 oculus rift tuscany razer hydra demoEarly adopters of the DK1 gravitated toward the Hydra for an early glimpse of 6DOF input for VR, back when the headset itself only tracked rotation. I recall years ago strapping a Hydra controller to the headstrap of a DK1 and using the controller in my hand for crude (but at the time revelatory) positionally tracked VR experience.Well before the announcement of the Vive, with its 6DOF wand controllers, or the Rift’s 6DOF Touch controllers, Sixense planned to build its own 6DOF controller system for VR. The ‘STEM’ (based on magnetic tracking, like the Hyrda), would include two controllers and several additional trackers which could be clipped to the head and feet for full body tracking. The company rallied the young VR community around a Kickstarter campaign, successfully raising over $600,000 back in October of 2013, well exceeding the project’s $250,000 goal.

At the time of the Kickstarter, Sixense had estimated that the earliest deliveries of STEM would reach backers by July 2014. As that date slipped past, backers were still hopeful—after all, many successful hardware Kickstarter projects end up seeing some delays. But few could have known that a years-long string of delays would follow, eventually culminating in backers throwing around the word “scam” and repeated calls for refunds and legal action against the company.

It’s been four years and three months since the first STEM deliveries were expected. And in a twist we definitely didn’t see coming, Sixense has announced plans to fully refund all backers (of all tiers) and pre-orders placed through the company’s website, including fees. The company says they’ll use a PayPal-facilitated process to issue refunds, as Kickstarter doesn’t provide a refund service. More details on the exact refund process should come shortly in an update to the STEM Kickstarter.

– – — – –

It’s a bittersweet conclusion for backers—and the right thing for Sixense to do—but may not do much to mend Sixense’s broken relationship with supporters who put their faith in the company only to have it tested to the point of breaking.

From 2014 to as near back as March, 2018, Sixense’s updates to Kickstarter backers made it sound as if the completion of the STEM system was just around the corner. “We are getting close to be able to start production, so please stay with us through this final phase,” read the most recent backer update.

But as early as October 2017 the company began seriously questioning the viability of manufacturing and delivering STEM to its backers.

Speaking to Sixense CEO Amir Rubin this week, he told me that by the time that Valve/HTC and Oculus began shipping their own VR controllers—some two years after the initial STEM systems were estimated to be delivered—it became clear to Sixense that STEM would be fighting an uphill battle in the PC VR space, though the company held out hope that it would be a great match for mobile VR headsets, and refocused their efforts on the project for that use-case.

Image courtesy Oculus

But then, unable to get STEM out the door for another year later and a half, Oculus revealed VR controllers as part of its Santa Cruz II prototype (which would go on to become Oculus Quest) in October 2017, causing Sixense to reconsider whether bringing STEM to consumers made sense, Rubin told me. The final nail in the coffin was when, just last month, Oculus announced that Quest would ship next year with VR controllers at a $400 price point.

– – — – –

Rubin told me that Sixense had spent all of the $600,000 Kickstarter budget by the end of 2014, but says the company continued to fund R&D to try to bring STEM to market (before deciding to kill it). I wondered then, if the company couldn’t pay to get STEM’s myriad of manufacturing issues fixed, how could it afford to refund all of its backers?

After coming to grips with STEM not being viable for the consumer VR market, Sixense has begun to focus on enterprise VR solutions. The company has been sending out hand-produced STEM development kits to potential partners with the hopes that the tech will be adopted and licensed as a component piece among non-consumer VR systems.

To that end, Sixense formed a joint venture back in early 2018 with Penumbra, a healthcare company, “for the purpose of exploring healthcare applications of virtual reality technology with Sixense Enterprises, Inc.”

It was a 50/50 partnership, Rubin told me, and just last month Penumbra bought out most of Sixense’s interest in the company for $20 million. He said there was “no question” once the deal was closed that the money should be used to refund backers before being used for other company interests, though he also said the decision to return the money was difficult considering other ventures they could use it for.

– – — – –

It won’t come without a laugh from STEM backers, but Rubin says this is just another delay; STEM will eventually come to the consumer market, in some form or another.

“The fact is, that we are delaying our consumer market release plan until there is a large enough VR systems install base with some ‘killer apps’. I believe that the current optical 6DOF controller solutions represent the early days of the ‘Mechanical Mouse’. I hope that when we release our STEM technology to the consumer market it will have a similar impact as ‘Multi-Touch’ did,” he said.

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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."
  • CURTROCK

    Woo Hoo !!! i guess ill be getting my $300 back…..shall i hold my breath? :)

  • edzieba

    As a backer, it’s disappointing I won’t be able to get a STEM to experiment with. Non-line-of-sight tracking is something not available at all in the consumer realm, and the cost of industrial solutions (e.g. Polhemus) would make your eyes water. The delays never really rankled that much, if you back a Kickstarter without expecting months to years of delays (and the high chance of getting nothing at all) the you should absolutely not be giving away your money in the first place.

    • ummm…

      id say that if people believed it was a gamble then they wouldnt invest, whoever true your statement may or may not be.

      • edzieba

        Kickstarter is NOT an investment. Not is it a pure pre-order. The closest analogy in terms of risk and liability is a bet: you shoulder all the risk of loss, and gave to evaluate the odds of the bet paying off yourself.

        If you are not willing to gamble your money, Do. Not. Use. Kickstarter.

        • ummm…

          i dont invest. but what is your contention? that KS is a gamble, or that KS is a pre order that may or may not ever happen?

  • Jan Ciger

    I would really *love* to see the postmortem of this. Given the various updates over the years that made one wonder whether Sixense is really *that* incompetent to have such problems, especially given that magnetic tracking is an ancient and mature technology and they have shipped the Hydra before – which was built by Razer.

    I do wonder whether that could have been the key difference – Razer’s core business is consumer hardware and PC peripherals, Sixense has never released a consumer product before. Did they bite off more than they could chew?

    Not holding my breath for the postmortem, though. I guess it would be pretty embarrassing …

  • mellott124

    Wow, surprised they’re giving it back. Wish ControlVR would give my $600 back for those gloves…

  • NooYawker

    I wonder if everyone will get their money back and how much of it. But anything is better than nothing like how many many many tech kickstarters end up.

  • mirak

    I was not a backer but I laughed though.

    Maybe they could also refund my Razer Hydra that was supported by like 2 games …
    It was fun though to do 1:1 motion in portal at the time.

    • Markus

      Sell that Hydra on eBay/Amazon for at least double what you bought it for.

      • brandon9271

        I can’t believe anybody still wants a Razer Hydra. What purpose does it serve?

        • Sponge Bob

          anything that requires close distance no line of sight required magnetic tracking – zillions of potential uses
          figure it out yourself

          • jkflipflop98

            Can you give me one example of why you’d want “no line of sight” on your controllers? The only way you can get a Vive controller to lose tracking with the lighthouse is to stick it completely under your shirt or something stupid like that.

          • brandon9271

            So..
            Not for VR then. Gotcha.

        • david vincent

          For the few who still use their DK2 ?

    • Mai

      Razer Hydra is supported by SteamVR and work as Vive wands in every game. I still occasionally use Rift DK2+ Hydra combo, because I’ve yet to personally jump the gun, since I do have a lot of other opportunities for using a Vive.

      • fuck you

        Nowadays unless you have a chink headset, or a DK2, or some weird setup like that, there is no reason to use it anymore, it is obsolete, wired (you can’t turn 360° without having to do a dance), has a ridiculous reach (1 meter and beyond is already all jittery as fuck), the only thing I miss on that are the thumbsticks, Oculus got theirs, now I am waiting on the Knuckles.

        • david vincent

          Sometimes I miss the 4 four additional buttons.

    • fuck you

      Oh my!!! I remember that well! And I could NEVER buy that piece of shit! It was all very obvious to me from the start, I even remember conformist retards telling me that THE magic in owning an Hydra was in rebinding regular games (cause WE don’t want actual ports! BURN IT!) and supposedly getting “super accurate inputs” that were “subjectively” (sometimes “objectively” as well, like the schrodinger cat) “WAY better” than the old mouse and keyboard.

      I wonder if they were all paid marketers because holy shit, how could anyone be that dumb. Though, several years later, I still got a bit of unrelated use from experimenting that discontinued gimmick in VR, the SteamVR drivers work really great, so I can thank those idiots for funding my fun.

    • Sponge Bob

      sell it on EBay dude
      those used Hydras are not cheap at all btw

  • The Asylum

    Has there been a successful Kickstarter VR project to date? not trolling, just curious.

    • Oculus Rift

      • The Asylum

        Ah yep :)

    • edzieba

      Rift DK1, Perception Neuron, About Face. VRCover, and that’s excluding software and only counting ones I’ve participated in.

  • Andrew Jakobs

    Well, it’s nice for the backers to get their money back, especially because they don’t have to as Kickstarter is NOT a product BUYING platform, but a product INVESTMENT platform. As long as they can show they used the money on the R&D of the product, they are fine. If it’s just hit & run (or blatently obvious that everything is spend purely on high salaries and not R&D), then you’re entitled to money back.

    • Jistuce

      Whatever the Kickstarter guidelines actually say, you’re never getting your money back no matter what.
      I backed one where as soon as the Kickstarter closed, all communication ceased as the alleged developers disappeared with the money. Surprise of surprises, Kickstarter got their cut and they don’t care.

      • Strawb77

        Kickshafter..

        • Jistuce

          Pretty much. That used to be Indiegogo’s job, but obviously Kickstarter needed to expand into that market.

      • Can Man

        Sorry that happened to you, but it’s not quite true that you and other backers are “never getting your money back no matter what”. You won’t be getting your money back from Kickstarter, but there’s nothing stopping you from filing a complaint with the FTC (if you and the campaign are U.S. based). You can also sue, but of course that requires paying legal fees, which is probably why most people don’t do that

        • Jistuce

          Honestly, I got my twenty bucks worth of entertainment in the laughter when I realized the “game company” was named after a cartoon supervillain group. I’m not even mad.
          Just saying, even in cases of blatant fraud, Kickstarter won’t hit undo.

    • Sponge Bob

      R&D is mostly about high salaries and perks for PhD scientists and engineers
      (In this case the key R&D guy was Igor Khalfin I believe)
      coils and magnets don’t cost much to make

    • Can Man

      Kickstarter’s terms of service require that campaign creators either deliver rewards or refund backers. So yes, they “have to” give the backers their money back.

  • Tony

    If KS kept their campaigners more accountable this wouldn’t be as much an issue as the rampant losses that KS creates for the backers. But hey, what the heck, KS gets their money up front so what do they care? As long as a ice chest with a radio in it and potato salad makes for interesting news – I guess it’s a cool site. I haven’t believed in KickStarter since this one: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/freewavz/freewavz-smart-earphones-with-built-in-fitness-mon that was supposed to ship Dec 14, 2014 – Too bad, great idea, poorly executed.

  • Jason Storey

    queue the army of comments smugly reminding everyone that kickstarter is not a sure thing.

    no, no it is not. it is also not a random dice roll. it is someone asking for your money, asking for your trust and in exchange offering you an opportunity. It is a reciprocal relationship. Yes you should be willing to lose your investment, though you should not expect to.

    Like a parent, most backers are not angry about losing money, they are just disappointed. Mostly because they believed in the product, it’s creator and they were let down.

    The problem is not a failed delivery it is 4 years of “almost there” and a disrespecting of the backers, a souring of their trust in you and even worse of their trust in any other future project.

  • Albert Hartman

    I think it’s pretty standup of them to refund all the backers. Most KS failures just slink away.

    • Jistuce

      In fairness, most kickstarter failures don’t find themselves with a sudden twenty-million dollar cash infusion a few years after the fact. They often have no choice BUT to slink away, because the cash is gone.

      Which is not to say that some DON’T give refunds when they are obviously capable of it.

  • Before you all trip over yourselves to pat them on the back for this minor attempt to make good on their failure, it’s worth noting that the $600k less then 4% of what they sold the company for. They made $20 MILLION. That $600k is just to quell unrest so the selling of their business interests went off smoothly. Nobody wants to buy an instant lawsuit.

    They were able to sell the company because of all of the press related they got constantly announcing they were about to ship their product and it worked great. It made their tech look like it was market-ready. They should probably get sued by whomever bought them for misrepresenting their technology as finished, or even WORKING ACCEPTABLY.

    • Sponge Bob

      sh1t works fine, dude
      do not worry
      its all about the size of those coils and battery capacity – and NOTHING ELSE
      you can drain battery in (wireless) hand held controller in 5 min for the fine demo presentation
      but then it is still useless for consumer devices

  • tomer gilron

    so, Does that means there is hope for refunds from vrAse?

  • brandon9271

    I don’t think this Sixsense tracking tech will ever become a commercial produce (besides Hydra). Lighthouse is superior and so is inside out tracking like the Quest. STEM missed the boat

    • Sponge Bob

      those are not superior in any way other than distance covered
      for hand controller tracking anyway
      line of sigh limitation also
      lighgthouse is not for mobile – requires external basestations
      inside out like Quest will be useless outdoor

      • jkflipflop98

        Can you give me one example of why you’d want “no line of sight” on your controllers? The only way you can get a Vive controller to lose tracking with the lighthouse is to stick it completely under your shirt or something stupid like that. Doesn’t make any sense.

        • Sponge Bob

          lighthouse is not for standalone headsets – it needd not just one but two external basestations to work well
          line of sight is overrrated in most cases but inside out controlelr tracking like Quest needs 4(!) cameras to see the entire space where controller might be located

          • jkflipflop98

            So what?

  • Mateusz Pawluczuk

    Ah yes, I remember those DK1 + Hydra combos people were experimenting with. There was this dude that made a demo game on a castle bridge were you could crouch behind covers and so on. Razor Hydra quickly sold out and almost everyone in the community was sure they will become a big name in VR space. Missed a boat big time. A bit of a shame really, such opportunities don’t present themselves everyday.

    • John Smith

      That was Teddy’s Hydradeck Cover shooter, convincing room scale years before it actually came out. Here’s an article about it:

      https://www.roadtovr.com/developer-interview-teddy-talks-hydradeck-cover-shooter/

      • Mateusz Pawluczuk

        Yes, Teddy! Thank you for reminding me & for the link (and sorry to Teddy for not giving him the proper credit he deserves ^_^’).

    • david vincent

      The real blast was HLVR with torso tracking ! (can’t wait for the updated version)
      The Hydra were sold for nothing at this time, good timing !

  • Roger Bentley

    Ossics X make this happen

  • John Smith

    I think it’s so convenient white collar Amir Rubin refused to deliver or refund backers for years until getting bought out for $20 million due to technology that was funded by those same backers. Yet as this article points out he still had the audacity to “find it difficult to return the money”. This guy has been poison to the VR industry from day one as far as i’m concerned. The only reason I’m getting this refund is because this guy clearly had no choice. I’m sure he can’t sleep at night knowing he now has to refund backers. I commend you RevVR for harassing these guys the way you did back in the day.

    https://youtu.be/tBWt_5wSdL8

  • John Smith

    I think it’s so convenient white collar Amir Rubin refused to deliver or
    refund backers for years until getting bought out for $20 million due
    to technology that was funded by those same backers. Yet as this article
    points out he still had the audacity to “find it difficult to return
    the money”. This guy has been poison to the VR industry from day one as
    far as i’m concerned. The only reason I’m getting this refund is because
    this guy clearly had no choice. I’m sure he can’t sleep at night
    knowing he now has to refund backers. I commend you RevVR for harassing
    these guys the way you did back in the day.

    https://youtu.be/VAipauDW4DI

    • Jistuce

      OR… they had already spent the backer money, and venture capitalist money can’t actually be used to refund prior investments, so they couldn’t actually refund the kickbackers until the big medical sale left them with a large chunk of cash that was ACTUALLY THERE’S.

      I don’t believe there’s a person here that would NOT find it difficult to let go of a half-million dollars. Note also that he said there was “no question” about whether they were going to do a refund before anything else.

      They had plenty of choices, as being harassed on YouTube and in comment sections clearly did not damage their business prospects. They COULD have kept the money, and just said “Well, you gave us the money to make this product, and we spent it all trying to make this product, and then we spent even more money trying to make this product, and it turns out making products is actually really hard. Sorry, guys, the money is all gone, but that was a valuable learning experience for us!”


      Or they could have just said nothing. They had quietly disappeared from the public eye, no one knew about the medical joint venture they just sold off until they announced the refund, and they would actually be getting LESS hatred from disillusioned kickbackers now if they had kept the cash and said nothing.

      • Can Man

        >>> “Or they could have just said nothing. They had quietly disappeared from the public eye, no one knew about the medical joint venture they just sold off until they announced the refund, and they would actually be getting LESS hatred from disillusioned kickbackers now if they had kept the cash and said nothing.”

        LOL no, quietly disappearing is not an option for them. The medical joint venture was posted on their own website, and sent out as a press release to every business info aggregator and news site. For example, here’s the press release on NASDAQ.com: https://www.nasdaq.com/article/penumbra-pen-forms-jv-on-virtual-reality-in-health-space-cm901236

        And the $20M cash deal was announced in a August 31, 2018 SEC filing: https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1321732/000132173218000120/pen-083118xform8xkitem201.htm

        So there is no realistic scenario in which Sixense could have “kept the cash and said nothing”, especially when it seems very possible they used work performed for the KS campaign (developing the STEM platform and SDK) when entering into this joint venture. The Kickstarter terms of service require the creators to refund backers if they won’t deliver rewards, which is how the FTC has fined other creators for failing to refund backers or deliver rewards.

        • Jistuce

          “The Kickstarter terms of service require the creators to refund backers if they won’t deliver rewards” That… isn’t actually true. It requires creators to offer the return of REMAINING FUNDS. In this case, all funds were spent ages ago. By the terms Kickstarter currently has on their website(and I make no claims those terms were the same back in the day), they were completely in the clear.

          The refund was the RIGHT thing to do, and won them a lot of good press, but it wasn’t any legal obligation.

  • Sponge Bob

    So the original inventors behind Polhemus tech and Razer Hydra (Igor Khalfin) could not make Sixense magnetic tracking work well enough to be viable in consumer products… …but Magic Leap’s guys somehow could ???
    (manufacturing bs excuses are just that – bs . The real reason are the Laws of Physics – Electromagnetism chapter)

    Something is not right here

    Either Magic Leap or Sixense is full of sh1t (most likely both)

    How come Magic Leap’s controller with tiny coils and small battery works and Sixense huge coils do not work ???

    Its same f%%^&* tech

    forget about kickstarter – who cares about 600K – its peanuts for this industry even in these early days

    we are talking the future standards in VR/AR

    Oculus Quest ?

    Optical controller tracking ? With 4 (!!!) cameras ????

    Don’t think so

    useless outdoors anyway

    Any thoughts ?

  • Sama

    So guys come in, ask for money, fail to deliver, sell the outdated and defunct work to a medical company which probably isn’t gonna do shit with, and use that money to plug the holes and run away with leftover “failure money”? It’s up there with Ponzi scheme. That’s why I hate Kickstarter. They rarely deliver.

  • They earned millions thanks to the backers’ money. That’s not fair

  • NextWorld VR

    In 2019, Rather than go with Vive Wands, I just bought a $80 Sixense ‘Razer Hydra’ to use with my pre-ordered VALVE: INDEX until the Pimax Sword Sense controllers come out, because I want a real Grip button the VALVE Knuckles lack!
    Sixsense should have kept at it,. I was desperate today for a non ‘Wand’ solution for the time being for my INDEX! Hydra is still the Other Choice! THAT WOULD BE STEM! What we need is Choices! They should work on the 3D modelling again but a PLUGIN for VR and Actually doing REAL Work in 3ds Max! (and or Maya)