Consumers seem enchanted by the Nintendo Wii's motion-controlled remote, buying more than one million units of Wii hardware last December alone, according to market research firm NPD Group. A Boston-based company, Motus Corporation, hopes to take advantage of the Wii's popularity through a new product: the Motus Darwin , which allows motion-based control on non-Nintendo game systems, including the PC.
Motus is not the first company to compete with the Wii; the Sixaxis controller for the PlayStation 3 also provides motion-based control, for example. But Motus chairman Satayan Mahajan says the Darwin, expected to retail for $79-$99, allows a more realistic game play experience than is currently available.
The Darwin, which was designed to resemble a samurai sword, has its roots in specialized golfing hardware called iClub, also made by Motus. Mahajan says the iClub was designed to help serious golfers improve their swings by sensing and analyzing minute details of the motion. Mahajan hopes to continue this verisimilitude with the Darwin. Where players often operate the Wii Remote one-handed in sports games, Mahajan wants the Darwin to feel more realistic, allowing players of a golf game, for example, to put two hands on the remote and swing it like a real golf club. "The Wii is a great device," he says. "But they're going from very simple applications, and trying to become more complex and capture more complex motion. We've gone from this very complex [process of] capturing very precise motions of the human body to something that's actually less complex."
As part of developing realistic game play, Mahajan says, Motus designed the Darwin to calculate its position differently than the Wii Remote. The Wii Remote tracks its position via an infrared sensor that users must attach to their televisions. However, the Motus Darwin measures absolute position with respect to earth itself. Using gyroscopes and accelerometers, the controller orients itself to the magnetic north, and senses the direction it is pointing.
Mahajan explains that this method has not been used before because the gyroscopes and accelerometers have a tendency towards errors. Through Motus's work on iClub, he says, the company has designed a combination of hardware, software and firmware that corrects the error. Finally, the system relays its positional information to the console in fewer than 30 milliseconds, Mahajan says, adding that this is faster than the human ability to perceive delay.
David Riley, NPD Group's senior public relations manager for entertainment, software, and toys, says that for a controller like the Motus Darwin to be successful, it must be properly marketed to a group willing to pay for a premium realistic experience, such as golf-game enthusiasts. "There's a complaint with 'Tiger Woods' on the Wii, for example, in that some bloggers feel that it has actually harmed their ability to play golf," he says. "They've adjusted over the winter period to the Wii to play this game, and then when they actually pick up a club, they're not swinging the way they did the previous season." If the Motus can be marketed as such a realistic controller so that it helps, rather than harms, real-life game play, Riley says, it could find its niche. However, he adds, the price of the controller is "borderline."
Though Riley notes that peripherals such as controllers sold very well last year, he worries that current and coming economic troubles could leave consumers unwilling to pay for a high-end controller. He says that much will depend on the library of games that are compatible with the Darwin, and how well the controller is integrated with those games.
Mahajan says that the list of games supporting the Darwin is not yet finalized. But, he says, Motus is talking to a variety of console makers and game publishers; is working on building in integration with popular games already on the market; and closely integrating with games that have not yet been released. Mahajan says the company expects to have the Darwin on store shelves in time for 2008's holiday shopping season.