Published two days ago (but actually filed in April last year), a Sony patent crediting SCEA researcher Anton Mikhailov as the inventor describes a motion controller capable of heating up or cooling down while playing.
There is (much) more than just that in the patent (which you can read here), but before getting there let’s take a look at how this thermal thing is supposed to work.
According to the patent, the handle portion of the controller is comprised of different surfaces capable of being thermo-electrically cooled down or heated up at software discretion.
Possible applications of this tech are provided in the patent and read as follows:
“In one embodiment, the user controls the movement of a character within a virtual environment of a video game. When the character enters a cold environment, the controller exhibits cold feedback, whereas when the character enters a hot environment, the controller exhibits heated feedback.”
“In one embodiment, the user controls a character’s hand in a video game by maneuvering a controller. When the character’s hand is extended towards or into a cold environment, such as submerging it in cool water, then controller exhibits cold feedback. Whereas when the character’s hand is extended towards or into a hot environment, such as towards a fire, then the controller exhibits heated feedback.”
“In one embodiment, a user utilizes a controller to discover the presence of objects that are not visible on screen or otherwise known to the user. The user maneuvers the controller about his or her interactive environment, and receives thermal feedback, such as heating or cooling, indicating the presence of an object.”
“In one embodiment, the user maneuvers a motion controller to control the movement of an object in the video game. As the user maneuvers the object and strikes other objects or otherwise interacts with other objects, the controller provides thermal feedback. For example, a user may control a sword in a sword fight by swinging the motion controller. As the sword controlled by the user strikes the opponent’s sword repeatedly, the user’s controller gradually increases a level of heat feedback.”
“In one embodiment, a user controls the firing of a weapon in a video game. As the weapon is repeatedly fired, the weapon may heat up and the controller may exhibit increasing heat feedback to communicate this fact to the user. At a certain point, the weapon may become inoperable, and the user must then wait for the weapon to cool off before firing the weapon again. This can likewise be indicated to the user by reducing the level of heat feedback or actively cooling the controller.”
“In one embodiment, a user may charge an item in a video game before discharging it. The charging of the item can be correlated with thermal feedback, such as heating or cooling the controller as the item is being charged, and reversing the heating or cooling when the item has been discharged.”
“In some video games, as a user controls a character to destroy a high number of enemies within a certain period of time, the character may gain energy for a special attack. The charging of this special attack may be indicated via thermal feedback at the controller, such as by heating a surface of the controller.”
Aside from these gameplay applications, the thermal features of this technology can have other purposes. For example, a user stepping away from the location he is supposed to stay within can be warned via temperature shifts.
The patent also mentions the possibility to alter the temperature of controller on the base of data received by two extra sensors: a biometric one and a temperature one.
The biometric sensor, which is something other Sony patents (here and here) have featured in the past, can measure galvanic skin resistance (that is, changes in the ability of the skin to conduct electricity) as well electrocardio or electromuscolar data. This information can be used to adjust the temperature of the controller, providing, for example, cooling feedback when the user’s hand is sweating or when the user is under stress.
The temperature sensor, on the other hand, can detect both ambient and user temperature so that the temperature of the controller or the degree of thermal feedback can be adjusted accordingly (speculation on my part: this could possibly mitigate motion sensors temperature drift).
The patent also mentions the possibility to add fans to the controller “configured to blow air that has been heated or cooled by a thermoelectric device towards the skin of a user.”
Now, this is all nice and cool (or hot), but the coolest (or hottest) feature described in the patent relates to the possibility to make you feel pain.
As illustrated in the picture above, the surface providing thermal feedback is comprised of two types of regions, which are the cooling ones and the heating ones. Now, this is a clever arrangement because by heating and cooling those regions simultaneously, the thermal device can provide a sensation of burning heat know as “thermal grill illusion“.
By virtue of this painful-but-not-really-harmful thermal feedback, the controller can be “set on fire” in various situations. For example, when your game character receives an electric shock, is hit by a fireball or enters a dangerously hot environment (think stepping into Metroid lava levels without the appropriate suit).
To a “softer” degree, the thermal grill illusion can also warn players about mistakes such as striking a ball incorrectly in a golf, baseball or tennis simulation. Basically think of it as the thermal equivalent of a vibration-based feedback.
Finally, the patent proposes the thermal device as both an integrated component of a Move controller or as a sheath-like attachment, connected to the device through the EXT port located at the bottom.
Now, even tho the patent mostly focuses on a “temperature feedback motion controller” (hence the title), it also touches upon what seems to be a brand new Move-like motion controller. One with a detachable sphere.
At page 10 of the patent, section 0125, referring to the illustration above, it is stated that “a controller may consist of a handle and a separate attachment which provides expanded capabilities”. These “extended capabilities” are discussed further as the patent describes the picture below as “an attachment for the handle with “rich” feature set”.
What we’ve got there is a quite busy mix extra features. Take a closer look and you’ll spot all kinds of modules: “microphone”, “speaker”, “ultrasound”, “WIFI”, “infrared”, “RGB camera” and even a “battery” and a “memory”. Oddly enough, the sphere-like attachment also houses an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a magnetometer, which are missing from the sphere-less handle pictured earlier (which comes with a speaker by the way, component 526).
Below is a picture of the handle connected to the “rich feature set” spherical attachment.
Elsewhere in the patent, it is clarified that the shape of the attachment as well as its contents are just “exemplary and other embodiments may include a subset of the features of the attachment”.
Anyway, reading through the patent, more information about the extra features are provided. Here is a selection of the most interesting bits:
“In one embodiment, the mechanical or inertial information is combined with other location determination information, such as visual tracking of the display, in order to refine the determination of the location of the controller-attachment combo.”
“A microphone and a speaker provide audio capabilities, while a battery powers the rest of the components, including the processor and the light emitting device. The battery can also be used by the handle as a second source of power. For example, if the rechargeable battery in the controller is discharged, the attachment can provide the required power so the user can continue playing instead of having to stop to recharge the controller.”
“The attachment can be used to store user parameters, such as player configuration for a particular game. The player can then use the attachment in a different gaming system to play with other players using the configuration obtained from the original gaming system.”
“An attachment provides infrared capabilities to allow the controller to communicate via infrared frequencies with the base computer, or to use the controller as a remote control for a TV or other electronic equipment.”
As usual with anything patent, none of the above is necessarily going to materialize into a commercial product, be it the thermal controller or the “rich feature set” attachment. So take that for what it’s worth.
Source: Kotaku via Philipo (thanks for the heads up!)