Despite looking rather peculiar, in the right hands haptic devices can be powerful tools when it comes improving artistsâ?? workflow efficiencyâ?¦

The Power of Touch

It’s almost guaranteed that at any gaming expo there will be companies offering at what at first sight appear to be Heath Robinson contraptions involving powered levers and flashing lights.

They will, of course, be attempting to replace the tried-and-tested mouse or game pad as a control interface. And rightly so – if the Wii’s taught us anything it’s that the human-machine interface is the vital part of a computer-based experience.

Sadly, the added precision required when it comes to professional haptic devices seems to rule out the random ‘waving your arms around approach’, but there are companies trying to bridge the gap between the Wii remote and simple mouse. Most well known is 3Dconnexion, which has been offering its beautifully crafted devices for seven years, and as impressive is the support for industry-standard modelling packages.

More specialised approaches include Sensable’s Phantom Omni, while InterSense’s IS-900 MicroTrax mixes 3D control with head tracking to provide custom solutions in terms of information management. But perhaps the prosumer/gaming space occupied by Sandio and Novint provide the most interesting potential, although the lack of robust support for modelling packages will be have to be rectified before they can hope to make any inroads.


Technology: Novint Falcon
Supported OS: Windows
Price: $200
Contact: +1 866 298 4420

Like Sandio’s 3D mouse (below), the Novint Falcon force feedback device was designed primarily as a gaming device, but the company’s Advanced Products Group is looking how to apply the technology to other markets and an SDK is also available for custom integration. As for the device itself, it’s designed to have different grips attached to the powered haptic device for different games and applications. Portal fans will also appreciate its slightly GlaDOS-esque looks.


Technology: SpacePilot, SpaceExplorer, SpaceNavigator, SpaceTraveler
Supported OS: Linux, Windows
Support Applications: 3ds Max, Acrobat, Maya, Photoshop, SketchUp, XSI
Price: from $59 – $399
Contact: +44 1322 427 849

A Logitech division, 3Dconnexion offers a range of ergonomic human-computer interface devices. At the top end sits the SpacePilot, which combines the characteristic controller cap with 21 programmable keys, a LCD screen and automatic program detection. Next is the SpaceExplorer, which has 15 keys but no LCD. The final devices are the two key SpaceNavigator (the only one to support Mac OS X) and its eight key lightweight SpaceTraveler companion.


Technology: Phantom Omni
Supported OS: Windows
Supported Applications: 3ds Max, Maya, Rhino
Price: £2,990 (device & software)
Contact: +1 781 937 8315

It’s a telling mark of how fluid the haptic device market is – since its debut at GDC07, Sensable has moved away from the content creation market to launch a Dental Lab System. Indeed, instead of attending GDC08, the company was at the midwinter meeting of the Chicago Dental Society. Nevertheless, its Phantom Omni device, combined with the company’s ClayTools modelling system is ideal for creating high resolution normal maps.


Technology: 3D Game O2
Supported OS: Windows
Supported Applications: 3ds Max, Google Earth, Maya, SketchUp, Virtual Earth
Price: $80
Contact: +1 408 998 0800

Sure, it might be more of a gaming technology than a solid production device but, nevertheless, Sandio’s six degrees of freedom Game O2 mouse features three joysticks to provide you with the ability to seamlessly manipulate objects about the X, Y, and Z axes. An SDK enables support for custom packages to be created, while the mouse also enables 16 commands to be triggered using the programmable buttons.


Technology: IS-900 MicroTrax
Supported OS: N/A
Supported Applications: N/A
Contact: +1 781 541 6330

Unlike the other haptic devices covered in this round-up, InterSense’s IS-900 MicroTrax is a significantly different affair, seeing as it combines a wireless head tracker with a six degrees-of-freedom wand to enable precision tracking in terms of stereo-based immersive display applications. It’s therefore not something likely to be used by artists, but it does demonstrate the potential of this technology in terms of information management and organisation.

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