Recently, I connected an iPhone with built in compass to Microvision’s laser projector, the ShowWX. Within moments, I found myself projecting a 360 degree immersive environment. Thanks to the infinite focus of the ShowWX, I found that I could project onto walls of varying distances and remain engrossed in the game! The iPhone’s compass and accelerometers permitted me to spin throughout the room and project the appropriate perspective in a surprisingly accurate manner. Indeed, some of you may have already seen my Youtube video which demonstrates this concept. Within 24 hours of its debut, the video spread throughout tech blogs around the world. I believe that the quick success of this demonstration shows the large potential for immersive projection in a mobile environment. Indeed, that future is here as Intel has been promoting Microvision’s prototype projector gun at it’s Extreme Masters gaming tournaments around the globe.
Before running out and buying an iPhone, pico projector, and immersive game like Sky Siege, there are a few things you need to know. At the time of this writing, the iPhone 3GS is the only Apple brand phone or iPod which has an electronic compass. Because Apple restricts video out capabilities, it is necessary to jailbreak the phone and download an application which will allow gaming projection. Though jail breaking is not illegal, it is discouraged by Big Brother. Needless to say, jail breaking is to be attempted at one’s own risk. Additionally, you will need a pico projector which connects to the phone. I chose Microvision’s laser projector, the ShowWX, because it does not require any focusing… ever! The lasers constantly scan or paint the image via a very fast mems mirror. Unlike today’s standard projectors, the ShowWX has no lens and has no need for a focus ring. The vibrant colors of lasers are also quite impressive. The ShowWX currently sells for $550 here in the US. Third, you will need an immersive game. Unfortunately, there are very few games which incorporate compass positioning. In my opinion, Sky Siege from Simbiotics fits the bill perfectly and blows me away with its graphics and high paced action. All that packed into a $3 iPhone application! Mark Sagar, software engineer at Simbiotics, says that “The algorithms in Sky Siege to get the phone to orient robustly and smoothly without gimbal lock etc. are state of the art and the math is pretty tricky.” As this type of gaming hits the mainstream, I am confident that more developers will join the effort to incorporate this technology. Games with black backgrounds could be particularly striking with projectors. Because the ShowWX scans its image, it paints absolutely no light in black areas of an image. In essence, a game character in a black scene would appear on a wall as if he was a part of the room, a virtual hologram of sorts.
This year, a growing number of mobile devices with embedded projectors and compasses are coming to market. Companies are investing millions to stream media content and games to these devices, increasing the demand for larger displays. Certainly, there are thousands of creative uses yet to be designed. Just months ago, skeptics doubted the usefulness of a compass because it was just a redundant way to track direction in already GPS enabled phones! Most people are also unaware of the existence of small pico projectors, let alone ones with lasers!
As exciting as these technologies are, their efficiency and functionality will continue to improve. I was quite pleased with the tracking ability of the compass, but it does occassionally get off course or “jerky” and require resetting. This will improve, however, as mobile devices continue to enhance their positioning with GPS location and triangulating via cell towers. Pico projectors like the ShowWX are a first generation device and will continue to improve while their price drops. Microvision has announced that its newer projector modules are even more power efficient and are already in the hands of mobile device makers who seek to embed them in their products. Once gaming friendly projectors like the ShowWX are embedded into mobile devices, I will be first in line to buy one. While I wait, I might as well paint the walls of my house white and get rid of all the windows!