If You Want To Wield A Lightsaber, Sixense's STEM System Could Be The Closest You'll Ever Get

A little under a year ago, I wrote about a product known as the Sixense STEM. It seemed like a pretty exciting concept - wireless motion control technology that grants a player full-body control in-game, without the need for any bulky peripherals or massive treadmills. If the project's runaway success on Kickstarter is any indication (they raised $600,000 with an initial goal of $250,000), then I wasn't the only one who thought it was a cool idea.

Since the Kickstarter drew to a close, Sixense has been hard at work getting the STEM ready for release. Currently, it's slated to be in the hands of backers later this year, and on store shelves a few months later. In the mean-time, the designer's released some pretty exciting media to tide us over while we wait - three tech demos that show exactly what the STEM is capable of, all of which were built with the SixenseVR Software Development Kit.

Yes, they're awesome. 

The first of the three demos, known as Shooting Gallery, is designed as a realistic weapon simulator. That is to say, you aren't going to be tapping a button to reload your gun - you're going to be doing it manually. You'll be able to inspect your weapon's magazine to see how many bullets are remaining, hold up a gun to look down the sights, and even change the angle and direction in which you fire - and all of it feels as natural as if you were holding a real weapon in your hands.

"Imagine cocking a pistol or a pump-action shotgun, using a bow-and-arrow, or pulling a pin from a grenade then tossing it. We will provide customizable prefabs for these behaviors, and are excited to see what developers can do with them," explains Sixense on the STEM Kickstarter page.

The second - and arguably coolest - demo will let you kick off your training as a Jedi in earnest, by putting the next best thing to a real lightsaber into your hands. Thanks to the STEM's low latency, you'll be able to block, parry, attack, and counter like a true Jedi Knight (or Sith Lord, I'm not here to judge). Naturally, the applications of this go beyond simple swordplay in space - the tech behind the Lightsaber Demo could easily be adapted into a medieval war game or shooter.

Last, but certainly not least, we've got Back Office. Okay, yeah, it's not as cool as the other two, but it's definitely awesome in its own way: we're talking object manipulation with real-world physics. That means that instead of walking through doors, you'll actually open them, instead of pressing a button to flip a lever, you'll actually pull it; instead of using joysticks or mice to throw things, you'll do it yourself. 

Fun fact: 90% of people will probably play the demo the same way this guy did. 

In conjunction with the demos, Sixense detailed some of the tech features of its SDK: 

  • Leg, arm, torso, and physical prop tracking. Allows you to place STEM Controllers or STEM Packs wherever you like to experiment with other types of interaction using your entire body, and even other types of controllers.
  • User avatar adjustment control panel. When allowed by the game/application designer, users can override the gender and proportions of their avatar to match their own body, for a much more natural sense of body awareness. 
  • Two-handed interactions with various types of virtual objects. 
  • Two-way collisions with the environment, allowing other objects to affect the avatar's body. 
  • Multi-user support. Simple interface for efficiently synchronizing a user's body pose over a network, enabling nuanced face-to-face interaction with subtle body language cues across distant physical locations. 
  • Additional game engines: Unreal Engine 4, Source SDK and CryEngine

They plan to release more videos soon.

It's a great time to be a gamer, isn't it? Peripherals like this allow us to experience a level of interactivity and immersion never experienced at any other point in history, to say nothing of some of the awesome games that are going to be coming out as a result of this tech. I can't wait to see where we go next.