Motus CEO talks Darwin motion-control

The success of the Wii has brought a lot of attention to motion-based game controls. Sony and Microsoft are undoubtedly working on their own motion-control systems right at this moment, but Motus, a company started by a team of MIT grads out in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has already demonstrated a...

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The success of the Wii has brought a lot of attention to motion-based game controls. Sony and Microsoft are undoubtedly working on their own motion-control systems right at this moment, but Motus, a company started by a team of MIT grads out in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has already demonstrated a new controller that has the potential to bring motion control to any gaming platform.

The engineers at Motus were able to develop its Darwin controller relatively quickly because they spent years learning about motion-sensing technology while developing their first product, the iClub, a hardware and software package designed for golf instruction. The Darwin controller shares the familiar wandlike shape of the vanilla Wii Remote, but has more internal sensors that promise superior performance.

We had a chance to speak with Motus CEO Satayan Mahajan to find out more about the Darwin controller and the company's plans to bring it to market.

GameSpot: What exactly is the Darwin?

Satayan Mahajan: The Darwin controller is basically a motion-based controller that is competitive to the Wii, designed for the platforms other than the Wii--Xbox, PlayStation, and PC.

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GS: What kind of hardware does the controller feature? Accelerometers, gyroscopes?

SM: It's both accelerometers and gyroscopes, and magnetometers. All three of those combined in very clever ways give us what we believe are better capabilities than the Wiimote.

GS: Nintendo recently announced the Wii MotionPlus accessory, which reportedly has three internal gyroscopes. Will the new add-on bring the Wii Remote closer to the Darwin?

SM: I think it should be a lot closer to the Darwin. It's still missing the magnetometers, so it's still a system that needs that IR strip to figure out where it is, whereas the Darwin is completely self-contained. If I'm not mistaken, there were a number of postings and blogs, and we've been hearing through our friends and family, so to speak, that the Wii MotionPlus was a response to the Darwin.

When a few people told us that, we thought, "How realistic is that? Here we are, this little company with 15 to 20 guys in Cambridge, Massachusetts." Oddly enough, blogs and little postings started popping up everywhere, and we thought, "Well, maybe there's some truth to it." Though it doesn't really affect us.

GS: We already know about accelerometers and gyroscopes, but what's a magnetometer?

SM: A magnetometer decides on its orientation and tells you its position relative to the Earth's magnetic field.

GS: How sensitive is it? Can it sense the movement of an inch?

SM: Sure. Yeah, it's very precise.

GS: How's the latency for the Darwin? On the Wii, there's a small but noticeable delay between moving the Wii Remote and seeing the onscreen response.

SM: Gamers that have been playing with [the Darwin] have had no visible latency. We have minimal latency because we come from a very different space where we were originally a sports product and technology company. In that space, where you're doing real-time athletic measurements, you really can't have any latency.

If you look at Motus' company, we were born out of this very high-end, scientific tool, and we brought it down the slope to gaming where the application isn't as, I don't want to say brutal, but I'm probably going to find out that it is, but just not as tough. At the high end you're taking tour athletes in golf and other sports and you really have to worry about their minute concerns, and it's a little less so in games, let's just say that.

GS: Would you say that the Darwin hardware would be less powerful or precise than your golf peripheral?

SM: No, believe it or not, it's the exact same stuff--it's very similar to what we've done in our golf technology applications. We've added buttons and created a new set of software, but it's based on similar technology.

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GS: You must have a high polling rate on the controller to be able to accurately detect a golf swing.

SM: That's correct, the resolution is exceptionally high. Everything occurs in a second and a half.

GS: Could you bring that over to the consoles?

SM: It would be overkill for consoles, but, yes, you could. I don't know if people would want that granular level of data, but it's available to them if they want it.

GS: But wouldn't it be nice to play a game of, say, Top Spin tennis where the game can actually detect your grip and model your swing perfectly?

SM: I think so. One of the nice things that we like about the Wii is that it's really paved the way for us to do this. We started in this space years ago, back in 2000-2001. We thought of a game controller, of a Star Wars lightsaber, but people didn't believe in it. Wii has done a fantastic job for us. Thirty million Wiis later and they've created a market, and now you're seeing some real response to what we're doing.

GS: One of the biggest challenges for any third-party peripheral manufacturer is generating software support. How do you guys plan on getting games to support the Darwin?

SM: Believe it or not, when we came into this space, it wasn't Satayan and his group of guys saying, "Hey, guys. The Wii has done really well. Let's start making game controllers." It was actually a phone call that we got from a publisher. They needed to convert their successful Wii titles over to other platforms, and they felt that the only way to do that was through motion. Almost a year ago to the day, they came to us and asked, "Can you build this for us?" And so, we will be launching a few titles with them over the next few years.

GS: Will you be announcing this partnership soon?

SM: I hope so. Everyone's chomping at the bit, and I feel really bad when I get these phone calls where I can't say anything. Obviously, everyone asks, "Are you working with Microsoft, are you working with Sony, are you working with this company, are you working with that company?" And I'm like, guys, I can't tell you because if I was working with them I'd be under a nondisclosure agreement. You know, we're just really happy to be in this space, and we're honored that people in the gaming industry would ask us to join and create something that I think everyone is going to be happy about.

GS: Many of the people who have played with the Wii have likely noticed that the controller tracking could stand to be crisper and more accurate. The Wii Remote was a good start, but it seems as though we'll need a more powerful controller to get the motion-control games we want to play.

SM: I'm honored that you feel that way. Everyone we talk to expects us to bash the Wii, and all I can say are good things about them. I think they've done so many wonderful things on so many wonderful levels. There are kids, American kids like myself, that now have a way to not be fat anymore, and that's fantastic. It's fantastic that you can get kids off the couch and get them moving. I think they've done a wonderful job. We're just ready to take it to the next level.

GS: You're not ready to talk about software partnerships yet, but can you talk about availability and pricing?

SM: We think that the target price will be between $79 and $100, and that will range a little based on what it's bundled with, and our launch goal will be this spring--again, it's going to be partner-dependent, where they see their games coming out, that sort of thing, but that's our goal here at Motus.

GS: Thanks, Satayan!

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