$100 3D Haptic Mouse Next Year
I had an interesting visit with Tom Anderson, CEO of Novint Technologies, at E3 this morning. Novint was showing off the Falcon haptic mouse (named Falcon because the falcon is the predator of the mouse), which is designed to retail for less than $100, starting about a year from now. (A premium version may go on sale by the end of this year.) After the demo I got, and at the price, I’d definitely buy one. It seems a really versatile and refined touch interface, and at that price point you can’t really go wrong.
In the pic above, the mouse cursor is the little white sphere. By lifting, pushing, pulling and sliding the handle in various directions, you can guide the sphere back and forth across the screen and through the depth axis freely. You can also roll it across the surface of the egg in the picture, and that’s where things get interesting. I think the egg in the pic is the sandpaper egg; slide the cursor across the surface of the sphere and it feels like you’re sliding across sandpaper. Anderson also had a bumpy egg on display, and one made of ice. The haptic feedback was uncanny. Even cooler was the egg made of molasses, which you could push the cursor into. Resistance rises accordingly, and if you push all the way through, the cursor pops out just as you’d expect.
Anderson says there’s a dental drilling demo that real live dentists have told him is also uncannily real. I had the privilege of performing an epidural injection with the Falcon, pressing a needle through skin and muscle and cartilage — and hoping to stop before I got the spine. The sensation was definitely very creepy, nearly what I imagine it would be if you actually had to give someone a spinal injection.
The Falcon — which plugs right in with its own drivers and a USB port — will come bundled with a set of mini-games to show off its capabilities. I fired an arrow at an apple on a penguin’s head, shot some baskets, caught some softballs, and picked up some beach balls on a string. But it’s the interface possibilities with existing games that are more interesting. I also played a modded version of Half-Life 2 using the Falcon:
Guns recoil, enemy shots have impact, the crowbar finally feels like a crowbar. This is much better than console rumble, as the reaction is tuned per weapon and effect. Apparently, the mod took a student programmer about two weeks to write, and just pulls output from the game engine into the device. You can also use the device as simply a regular mouse. I thought this was especially interesting to see in light of the 3D elements that are coming in Windows Vista.
The knob that is the handle could be made a bit friendlier, I thought. But you can switch the handle out and replace it with things like a pistol grip, a golf club, a steering wheel or pretty much anything else.
“I see this as one of the few technologies in our lifetime that will fundamentally change how we use computers,” Anderson told me, perhaps somewhat optimistically (though perhaps not). What was nice is that he sees it as something with a use beyond games, and beyond simulations. “You can reach out and shake hands across the world,” he mused. Very nice.
For now, though, Novint will be concentrating on games and simulations. The company will be working with game developers to create more games that support the Falcon device, and to create implementations of existing games that do so.