I'm not really used to writing about hardware that's hardly to prototype stage yet, but damn, I cannot wait 'til this comes out so I can start reverse engineering it.
Novint, the company that manufacturers the Falcon haptic device (that I wrote/maintain the cross-platform libnifalcon for - if you aren't familiar with the falcon, check out this rather exhaustive article I wrote on it a couple of years ago), recently announced a merger with another company.
The other company in the deal, Forcetek Enterprises, doesn't even seem to exist outside of the PR about this merger (UPDATE: Ok, I actually found their old website finally. Apparently this was shown at E3?). Successful stealth mode.
What came out of the merger...
is a partial exoskeleton for gaming.
The XIO is a sleeve exoskeleton that allows you to feel forces throughout the arm, versus just through the hand like the Novint Falcon. There is actuation along the arm and elbow, meaning much larger force distribution and a much more immersive feel. In applied terms, this means that you'll be able to feel things like gun kickback all the way through your shoulder, versus just your hand. You can also do interesting things like simulating weight and fatigue in the arms by restricting certain movements.
This combined with depth cameras like the kinect could be HUGE. Players would have both full body tracking AND at least partial body actuation, which is better than the "flail without feedback" option we've had for years with the Power Glove/P5/Wiimote/Kinect/Move.
The demo video below shows a full VR rig built from consumer hardware, using
The XIO is supposed to integrate with Novint's F-Gen drivers. F-Gen is an abstract programmer layer (similar to GlovePIE) made to implement haptics on top of arbitrary games, instead of doing direct game integration (which Novint has with things like Source Engine games and the Penumbra series). This allows users to possibly script haptics to whatever game they want. How well this works, I have no idea, but it means that any game the falcon supports should also be supported by the XIO on release.
Novint's yet again done a horrible job of the PR with this one, as it looks like no one has really picked up the news yet even though the press release happened over a week ago, and now all of the images on the front page of their site are broken. Novint's CEO even changed his twitter account on the launch for reasons I'm not real sure of.
That said, I've been incredibly happy with Novint's quality of engineering on the Falcon. Novint knows how to make extensible hardware, as they've shown with the grip and firmware system on the falcon. It was a joy to reverse engineer, and I'm hoping that follows onto this as well. I can't wait to get my hands on (and in) the XIO.