No longer a technological fantasy pulled straight from the world of movies and television, virtual reality is set to make an even bigger splash in the gaming market this year with impending headset releases from Oculus, HTC and PlayStation, effectively continuing the momentum that Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR created for consumer VR products. Riding the virtual wave with these companies are independent developers, looking to take players' experiences to the next level with interactive games and peripherals.
A handful of Canadian developers taking a leap into the future of VR gaming will be displaying their technological achievements in Toronto next month as part of Digifest, a three-day celebration of groundbreaking design, technology, and entrepreneurship from April 28 to 30.
Here are four Canadian tech companies that will have their advancements in the world of virtual reality on display at this year's Digifest.
BreqLabs – ExoGlove
VR pioneers Oculus believe that external controllers are essential to the virtual reality experience, with CTO John Carmack quoted as saying "when you put a child in virtual reality, they instinctively raise their hands hoping to see them." Enter the ExoGlove (pictured above) from Toronto's BreqLabs: a wearable VR glove that effectively breaks the barrier between the user and their computing device of choice. As opposed to other motion controllers, BreqLabs believes that using your own hands is the best method for interaction with VR, offering more natural control than other handheld peripherals ever could.
The ExoGlove's sensors are powered by three different subsystems that track finger movement, hand position, and haptic perception, allowing the user to feel as well as simply see. In addition to its impressive technical specifications, the glove also looks much more attractive and practical than its wearable predecessors, making usage as simple as putting it on one's hand. BreqLabs' calls for ExoGlove development proposals for both gaming and industrial application are now open.
Vitruvius – Premier VR Game Development
Ontario software and VR gaming development company Vitruvius believes in creating what they call "amazing experiences, not things." The first VR experience to come from the London-based company is a game titled MushroomBallVR, a physics-based platform game that combines virtual reality headset technology with the look and feel of a classic platformer. In the game, the player controls a glass ball that rolls around the level, with their objective being to collect as many coins and mushrooms as they can before time expires. One beta tester likened its gameplay to a cross between classic platformers Super Monkey Ball and Super Mario 64.
As shown in a video of Vitruvius' alpha testing process, users must lean their head side to side and front to back to apply force to the ball and control its movement, ultimately making for more engaging gameplay than simply using a joystick or thumb pad. Currently in its beta stage, MushroomBallVR has over 3,000 unique downloads and an average user rating of 4.5 out of 5 on the Oculus online store. While the beta version is currently available only for Oculus Rift, Vitruvius has plans to bring the title to Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard and HTC Vive upon its completion.
Lumo Interactive – LUMOplay Interactive Projector
While there are numerous gaming devices geared towards children of younger ages, a common concern amongst parents is how long their child will spend in front of a screen. The LUMOplay interactive projector from Lumo Interactive does away with screens entirely, turning empty floor space into a gameplay area. Recommended for children between ages 2 and 12, the projector invites players inside a number of familiar games that promote active, social and imaginative play.
Set to ship with 100 different games included, a video demonstrates virtual air hockey, fishing, Hungry Hungry Hippos and even the classic scenario where the floor is made of lava. The projector also has the power to recognize outside objects for incorporation into games, effectively "breathing new life into old toys." Older children can design their own games based on a range of provided templates with no coding experience necessary, and an HDMI input makes it possible to use LUMOplay as a standard projector.
Vitruvian Power – Wearable Energy Technology
Whether you're doing your gaming with a smartphone or handheld console, having a portable device run out of juice with no available power source is a situation most would rather avoid. Vitruvian Power is looking to make such a predicament a thing of the past by putting technology into practice that would help humans harvest energy from daily activities. Wearable products with thermoelectric, electro magnetic and kinetic technologies embedded within them could convert human body energy into electric energy and store it.
Garments that could make use of this technology include everything from belts, caps and other accessories to wristbands and watches. The company posits that the energy could be used in four different ways: immediate personal use, storing it in personal batteries or power stations both public and private for later use, sharing it with friends, family, or the community, or using it as a form of currency to feed the electrical grid in exchange for a points reward system.
To see these companies' advancements firsthand, Digifest 2016 will take place from April 28 to 30 at the Corus Quay building, located on Toronto's waterfront at 25 Dockside Drive. Further information concerning the festival's opening party, scheduled programming and admission fees can be found at the event website here.