Great vibrations

This week, I wanted to post something different from my previous posts to write about. I feel I’ve been ignoring the “gadget” section of the site a bit too much.  While searching around, I found the normal camera, cell phone (a NEW cell phone!?!?!  REALLY!?!?!?  HOW EXCITING!!!) and game reviews, but nothing that really caught my eye or ear. Until I ran into something that didn’t have to, this.

ViviTouch technology, developed by SRI International (formerly Stanford Research Institute) and commercialized by Artificial Muscle Inc., EAP (electroactive polymers) technology is now being used in a multitude of ways. Simply put, a piece of polymer film is placed between two electrodes. When a charge is applied to those electrodes, the film contracts. It gets flatter and expands in area. When done at high speed, it puts off vibrations. If this is all Greek to you, watch the video below, brought to you by the fine people at Vivitouch.

So, why should you care about this and how does it apply to your life? Well, if you’re an avid gamer, much like myself, this could be the Rumble Pak of this decade. It’s being developed for use with game controllers and peripherals. Imagine if you could tell who was calling you based on the way your phone vibrated.  With a more sophisticated and compact vibration component, it’s entirely possible. Its been adapted for use on smartphones as well as tablets. Because there is no motor to spin weights, as with existing vibration technologies, it takes less power, which always comes at a premium with newer phones. Mophie currently has an add-on product out for the iPod touch that uses Vivitouch technology.

Not only good for gaming, EAP is also being researched for use in the fields of medicine, optics, robotics and energy. It’s already being used in remote controls, appliances, and vehicle control panels. It’s good to see that American ingenuity can drive us to reevaluate standard features and do something new with them. In the end, Vivitouch is far from Earth shaking, but we’ll all be feeling the effects in years to come.



Who is in control?

In the days of arcades on the beach, and Pong, game controllers had about as much complexity as Velcro shoes. Joysticks were one of the earliest controllers out there, their appeal being their versatility. They worked very well with a multitude of games. This was the case with the majority of early inputs. But there were some out there that had the insight to make use of game specific peripherals, like the light gun, steering wheel, and Power Pad.

As time progressed and the popularity of games increased, the precision and specialized inputs did as well. Games were moving from the arcade to the home. When the NES first launched, one of the premium packages included the Zapper, R.O.B., and a controller. By the time SNES and the Sega Genesis were launched, no peripheral controllers were offered in the packages. They were becoming more specialized, the Dreamcast Fishing Controller for example. As flight simulators gained popularity in the 1990s, so did the need for more extensive joysticks. Theold-school ones were no longer complex enough due to the rise in 3D gaming. By the turn of the century, the Dance Dance Revolution franchise became popular and brought with it the dance pad. Then came an explosion of peripherals with the release of the Wii and the hugely popular Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises.

The progression of the gaming peripherals brought things we would normally do outside, into our homes. Running track, fishing, hunting, driving a race car and flying a plane can now all be done from the comforts of your living room. Now, some interesting new simulations are being made that incorporate peripherals in new ways.

These two examples are bringing the game to a whole new level. For a man, being able to feel what it’s like to be pregnant is a brand-new and interesting experience that could help us be more understanding of our spouses. It could possibly deter young women from getting pregnant before they’re ready. And who doesn’t like the idea of a video game built into a urinal? It’s much better than just staring at a wall. Sorry ladies, nothing has been developed yet for stalls.

Cloudy days ahead

The term “cloud” is being thrown around the internet and gaming scene quite often these days. Simply put, cloud gaming is a game that’s being streamed directly to your computer from a server. A cloud-based service can be used for many different things. Services like email, Google word, Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube. Some major gaming platforms like Steam, XBL, and PSN use cloud integration.

The major difference between cloud gaming and other forms of cloud-based services and/or content is that the processing power required for gaming is more taxing than most other computer operations.  This means that, despite Google documents processing power in the cloud, it’s still just doing word processing or streaming audio and video in the case of Netflix, whereas cloud-based gaming relies on dynamic generation of audio and video in response to player-constructed inputs. (i.e. mouse and keyboard).

The advantages to using cloud-gaming are numerous. The necessity for big, expensive, hardware such as computers and consoles would be a thing of the past. The server supplying the game would handle all the processing. Theoretically, you could play on laptops, tablets, TVs or even smartphones. This could be offered as a subscription service (i.e., Netflix) rather than having to buy games individually.

Now here’s the real issue. Is cloud-based gaming a viable option for the future, or is it just a pipedream? With the demand for streaming audio, video and online gaming growing exponentially there are already concerns whether the bandwidth required is available. Even with the huge leaps forward that have been made in internet speeds in the past 10 years, cloud-based services have come  to represent a formidable portion of internet traffic. How much data can we shove down this pipe and not experience latency? Current cellphone plans are based on data usage. Cell phone companies already rely on ISPs  to help with their capacity issues. This could severely hamper or even make it impossible for cloud gaming to be successful.

As it stands now, cloud gaming only applies to single-player games. But recent games have been steadily incorporating multiplayer  options. To the point that single player often takes a back seat to multiplayer with popular franchises like Call of Duty and Counter Strike.  This could lead to some serious problems for companies like Gaikai, OTOY, and OnLive. Being able to support multiplayer games is a must for gaming companies. With the bandwidth concerns they are already facing,  a viable solution will need to be found to be able support anything more than single player.

Cloud-gaming could be the wave of the future. It could change when, where and how we game…if the internet speed, bandwidth issues and server capacity/processing power catch up enough to support it. That’s a few too many could’s, should’s and if’s for me though. Guess I’m stuck with my bulky Xbox for now. But so are all my friends.