Virtual Reality

This sensor can add body tracking to mobile VR – but it's probably better to wait

Two parts of the VicoVR system, with headset and sensor
Two parts of the VicoVR system, with headset and sensor
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Company simulation of body tracking with VicoVR
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Company simulation of body tracking with VicoVR
Two parts of the VicoVR system, with headset and sensor
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Two parts of the VicoVR system, with headset and sensor
Based on promotional materials, it looks like only one gesture controller is supported
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Based on promotional materials, it looks like only one gesture controller is supported

Once you've used PC-based VR with full-body positional tracking, like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, you start to look at mobile VR, which only tracks head rotation, a little differently. Namely, the high-end tracked stuff makes mobile VR look pretty watered-down by comparison. A crowdfunding project is trying to fill in that tracking gap on mobile VR, but until the big players add tracking of their own, don't expect this kind of thing to go far.

VicoVR is the name of the new sensor, headset and motion controller combination for smartphone-based VR currently trying to woo backers on Indiegogo. In theory, this sounds like the mobile VR magic bullet we've been waiting for. External sensor (looking suspiciously like a Kinect) that tracks leaning, standing, crouching and walking, along with a wireless gesture controller (looking suspiciously like a Wii nunchuk) to track hand movement and object manipulation. And it will support the upcoming Google Daydream VR, the consumer successor to Google Cardboard.

But don't expect this to be the spark that shifts today's no tracking from the neck down mobile VR into something more like the Vive. First, with no hands-on demos, we have no idea how good (or awful) this product's tracking is. If a huge company like Sony can launch a consumer VR headset with borderline unusable motion controller-tracking, we aren't holding our breath for an indie company running a crowdfunding campaign to do better. Watching the pitch video (embedded at the bottom of this article), you'll notice that the actors demoing VicoVR's tracking are making very slow gestures. PSVR taught us that VR that requires you to adapt your natural movement to accommodate the tech is, well, VR that's going to feel incredibly unnatural. It's the tech's job to adapt to natural movement.

And like Daydream's reference design controller, the VicoVR's system appears to use a controller – singular – with no visible support for dual controllers. Prepare to be one-handed in every tracked game.

Based on promotional materials, it looks like only one gesture controller is supported
Based on promotional materials, it looks like only one gesture controller is supported

Even if the tracking is acceptable, developers will need to adapt their existing mobile VR games to support the positional tracking. This industry-wide shift will come at some point, but it's hard to see that happening until the Gear VR or Daydream officially support their own positional tracking hardware (either internal or external) ... at which point, this sensor will most likely become irrelevant. It's a bit of a Catch 22, as many crowdfunding campaigns face when trying to add features that the big players haven't yet added.

VicoVR says it does support Unity and Unreal Engine 4, so who knows, perhaps widespread dev support won't be quite as impossible a peak to scale as it appears to be. Just extremely unlikely.

Company simulation of body tracking with VicoVR
Company simulation of body tracking with VicoVR

The VicoVR system is now funding on Indiegogo, with a $219 pledge getting you the full system, with sensor, headset and controller. Separate components can also be had for lesser pledges (and you can use it with other Cardboard/Daydream headsets). If all goes well, the estimated ship date is this November. At the rate virtual reality is progressing, though, there could already be spatial tracking options from the big companies by then.

Product pages: VicoVR, Indiegogo

VicoVR | Wireless, Full Body Gaming System for Mobile VR

1 comment
Lbrewer42
the article says: SNIP If a huge company like Sony can launch a consumer VR headset with borderline unusable motion controller-tracking, we aren't holding our breath for an indie company running a crowdfunding campaign to do better. SNIP Abd the author may be right. However, its this kind of negative publicity from "experts" that held back the computer industry until we are finally catching up (in most areas) to the power the Amiga computer offered so long ago in the late 80s. We still don', and settle for a less capable method that STILL can slow other processes (which the AMIGA never experienced). The Amiga had a prioritized chip set that coiuld access the memory independent of the main CPU. This meant a factual muti task environment was present and allowed amazing things like a real-time virtual factory tour (remember... 7 MHZ machine) with only a single spin CD ROM! It also meant that there was no slow down function when running multiple applications - something that still plagues our modern platforms. I once had 5 3.5 floppy drives daisy chained to format 60 disks. I could format on all 5 drives at once while playing a game with no slowdown. Only 512 K of memory. We HAD VR headsets for the Amiga back then. There were even places in Canada and Europe where arcade had them (I used them!). The graphics were only 16 bit, but you were immersed in that world just like modern headsets are finally coming around to again. So sad... the original VR is literally almost antique tech now, and we are finally getting it to mass markets. But the "big boys" Microsoft and Apple, had the money for media exposure and made sure the superior tech was shelved b/c the herd mentality of the masses is easy to manipulate. So don't totally ignore someone b/c they are not one of the big boys. Its the big boys that robbed us from having VR mainstream a long time ago.