OmniWear Arc brings haptic feedback to gamer's necks

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Worn around the neck, the OmniWear Arc will vibrate to let players know of enemies sneaking up on them from offscreen(Credit: OmniWear Haptics)

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Game controllers have been rumbling since the Nintendo 64 days, but a new wearable device is designed to take that kind of haptic feedback out of gamer's hands. Worn around the neck, different parts of the OmniWear Arc will vibrate at different intensities to give a 360-degree indication of enemy and teammate positions beyond a player's field of view, and it may even find applications outside of the gaming world.

With eight haptic motors built into the band, the OmniWear Arc doesn't exactly give players a sixth sense, as the company claims, but it does make use of one of the five in a new way. These motors will vibrate at different frequencies and intensities to let players know if an enemy is close behind them, or a long way off to their left, for example. It picks up that information with the help of the user's smartphone camera, which needs to be pointed directly at the in-game minimap. The app will keep watch for any red blips on the map and transmit that information to the Arc via Bluetooth, which vibrates in response.

Currently, the device only works with League of Legends, to notify users when champions enter or leave their lanes, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, to warn of enemies that may be sneaking up from behind or are obscured by a smoke grenade, but the team hopes to work with developers to expand the library of compatible games.

While the idea of haptic navigation in games is intriguing, the solution of pointing a phone camera at the minimap is an inelegant one, and doesn't really relay any information that couldn't be revealed with a quick glance at the map anyway. OmniWear explains that the point is to outsource some of the player's attention to the idle sense of touch, so they can focus on the game itself – but unless you're a hardcore LOL or CS:GO player, that might not be enough.

That said, the company is working on a plug-in for the Unity engine and an open-source software developer kit (SDK) that would allow developers to natively integrate Arc functionality into their games and apps. If that comes to fruition, the device suddenly becomes a lot more interesting, opening up uses outside of the gaming sphere, like monitoring cyclists' blind spots, and navigation apps that vibrate to point the way, like the feelSpace belt.

OmniWear is currently seeking funding of US$75,000 for the Arc on Kickstarter. Super Early Bird pledges start at the $99 for the device itself, a micro USB charging cable, the phone mount and the app (iOS and Android). If all goes to plan, the company expects to ship the Arc in September 2017.

The campaign video can be seen below.

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