Today Sixense launched a Kickstarter for the highly anticipated STEM VR motion controller. STEM is essentially a sequel to the Razer Hydra. It cuts the cords to go fully wireless, supports up to five independent sensors for full-body tracking, and increases performance and range over the Hydra.
The STEM system brings “longer range, wireless operation, modular form factor, and better tracking performance at all ranges” to the table.
For those unfamiliar, like the Razer Hydra before it, STEM uses Sixense’s proprietary magnetic tracking technology which lends itself to highly accurate tracking for 1:1 input. The controllers and sensors detect six degrees of freedom: down to 3mm for translational position and 2 degrees for rotational position. At under 10ms of latency, STEM offers ” the lowest latency of any wireless consumer motion control system,” according to Sixense.
In my experience, even the Razer Hydra is so accurate that you can’t humanly hold you hand still enough to make it think you aren’t moving at all — and that’s damn impressive if you ask me.
Sixense’s STEM Kickstarter pitch video features a cast of important players in the VR community and beyond, including: John Carmack (iD/Oculus), Cymatic Bruce (Cymatic Software), James Iliff and Nathan Burba (Project Holodeck) Will Provancher (Tactical Haptics), Denny Unger (The Gallery), and there’s a quote from Yuval Boger (Sensics).
There’s also a surprise appearance by Neal Stephenson, author and recent game developer, having funded CLANG last year, a largely successful Kickstarter to make a realistic sword fighting game.
“The modular approach being pioneered by Sixense is exactly what we have been hoping for. It’s going to enable us to extend gameplay over an unlimited range of martial arts styles. More than anything else we’ve looked at, the STEM System has the precision and responsiveness we need,” says Stephenson.
Brendan Iribe, CEO of Oculus VR Inc, also had some words to say about STEM:
“We love to see other companies working on solutions for tough problems in the virtual reality space. Sixense is doing great work in the motion tracking arena with their Hydra and new STEM technology. We’re always looking forward to seeing how others approach the problems and enjoy playing with the various solutions. The community has had a lot fun experimenting with Hydra. Everyone’s learning a ton, including us. It’s still just the beginning, day zero. The future of wearable computing and virtual reality is being created now. I really believe this is the most exciting time to be in gaming, digital entertainment, even mobile technology,” Iribe told Venture Beat.
STEM Kickstarter Reward Tiers
The STEM Kickstarter, which has a funding goal of $250,000, offers a number of tiers and way for developers and VR enthusiasts to show their support. As usual, our chart below breaks through the clutter to show you the primary reward tiers that actually come with the product:
|PRICE – TIER||REWARD||# AVAILABLE|
|$149 – STEM Two Trackers Bundle (Early Bird)||1 Base + 2 Controllers (including 2 STEMs). Includes carrying case and choice of t-shirt.||100|
|$199 – STEM Two Trackers Bundle||1 Base + 2 Controllers (including 2 STEMs). Includes carrying case and choice of t-shirt||no limit|
|$200 – STEM Three Trackers Bundle (Early Bird)||1 Base + 2 Controllers (including 2 STEMs) + 1 Power Pack (including 1 STEM). Ideal for applications requiring tracking of two hands plus an additional point (e.g., a head-mounted display for VR). Includes carrying case and choice of t-shirt.||250|
|$249 – STEM Three Trackers Bundle||1 Base + 2 Controllers (including 2 STEMs) + 1 Power Pack (including 1 STEM). Ideal for applications requiring tracking of two hands plus an additional point (e.g., a head-mounted display for VR). Includes carrying case and choice of t-shirt.||no limit|
|$300 – STEM Five Trackers Bundle (Early Bird)||1 Base + 2 Controllers (including 2 STEMs) + 3 Power Packs (including 3 STEMs). Great for tracking the entire body (hands, feet + head or other midline). Includes carrying case and choice of t-shirt.||500|
|$350 – STEM Five Trackers Bundle||1 Base + 2 Controllers (including 2 STEMs) + 3 Power Packs (including 3 STEMs). Great for tracking the entire body (hands, feet + head or other midline). Includes carrying case and choice of t-shirt.||no limit|
Sixense is also offering add-ons to the tiers. By increasing the pledge amount, backers can add any of the following:
- STEM ($40): Up to five STEMs are supported by a single Base. Each STEM can be used with STEM Controllers or controllers/peripherals of your own design, or with Power Packs.
- Power Pack ($50): Each Power Pack includes a built-in rechargeable battery and communications, a strap, and a clip. STEM is not included. Perfect if you want to use the STEMs that come with the Controllers.
- STEM Controller ($60): Each Controller includes a built-in rechargeable battery & communications. STEM is not included. Perfect if you want to use the STEMs that come with the Power Packs to play a game with a friend (like the Portal 2 MotionPack Co-op campaign).
- STEM Base ($100): Add an additional Base.To extend the play zone range you can add two more Bases. Power Packs, Controllers or STEMs are not included.
Sixense expects to deliver the first STEM systems to backers in July, 2014.
Pricing on the Sixense STEM Kickstarter puts it in direct competition with PrioVR, the full body VR motion capture kit, which, after a recent price drop, is priced at $349 for the PrioVR Lite package which includes 11 motion tracking sensors. PrioVR is also in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign.
Next Generation VR Motion Controller
STEM addresses the biggest concern users had with the much lauded Razer Hydra — wires are completely gone and the range is increased to a 16 foot diameter around the base. On top of that, Sixense is improving things across the board. STEM adds support for up to five individual tracking points, allowing players to track both hands, feet, and head (for head mounted displays like the Oculus Rift), for full avatar embodiment in virtual reality games. Perhaps more impressive, Sixense says it’s actually reduced latency over the wired Razer Hydra.
One tidbit we didn’t know before is that the Power Packs (a battery dock to use a STEM tracker purely for motion tracking [ie: not in a peripheral]), that come with some of the STEM packages, will include haptic feedback — most likely in the form of a rumble motor.
Below, Sixense compares popular motion controllers to the STEM system:
STEM as a Foundation
Perhaps even more exciting than the myriad of imrpovements that STEM brings over the Razer Hydra, is the potential for STEM to become a foundation for VR peripherals.
Sixense is smartly designing the STEM as an open platform.
“Developers will be able to create games with virtually no restrictions, and to embed STEMs for tracking of their own peripherals or wearable devices, such as swords, baseball bats or head-mounted displays. The modularity of the STEM System will give developers the flexibility and autonomy they need to create motion-tracked titles complete with motion tracked peripherals of their own design,” reads the Kickstarter page.
This means that a wide range of peripherals could be sold with STEM trackers built in, or with a slot to insert a tracker, allowing the peripheral makers to focus on what they do best, without worrying about the complicated field of motion tracking. Your VR controller arsenal could include a tennis racket, sword, guns, baseball glove, and more — without having to pay for a redundant tracking technology in each device. I’d personally love a Delta Six gun with an attached STEM!
Software Support, Sixense SDK, and Open Source VR Tuscany
With STEM, Sixense is also bringing a second-generation SDK which will allow developers to integrate motion tracking into their games. The SDK will be available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Sixense says that STEM is backwards compatible with all Razer Hydra titles. In addition a number of current or forthcoming VR games that use true 1:1 input from Hydra/STEM, there is a huge library of existing games that can be played with STEM controllers using emulated mouse and keyboard input.
Sixense also says that they’ll be making their Tuscany VR demo open source, so that developers can learn how to integrate STEM into their own games. The open source demo will include:
- Reference implementation for adding motion-tracked hands to a Unity VR application
- Full body avatar with inverse kinematics
- Example physics implementation for hands and feet
- Sixense Player Controller prefab decoupling the head from the body. Drag and drop into your scene
- Sixense Tuscany Demo scene
Are you backing the Sixense STEM Kickstarter? Why or why not?