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Way back when in September of 1990 (i.e. the good old days :-)), I wrote about a controller interface device called the Gold Brick. The Gold Brick is an interesting idea - it acts as an interface between the Mac's ADB and a variety of 2-D and 3-D controllers made for Nintendo games. Back then, the Gold Brick was relative vapor, but it now appears that Transfinite Systems is shipping an upgraded version of the Gold Brick along with a cheaper interface for users, called the Nugget. The Gold Brick sells for $245 and the Nugget for $169, and although you could buy the Nintendo controllers from the company, they encourage users to look for cheaper prices in toy and electronics stores.

The main upgrade to the Gold Brick is the ability to accept more in the way of 3-D input, so the device can now accept 3-D forward and backward signals, as well as roll controls. Needless to say, such ability greatly increases the controller's utility for interactive use with simulated 3-D objects. The other upgrade to the Gold Brick is the ability to work with the Nintendo Power Pad, which I've never seen, but which I gather is kind of like a game of Twister with electronic sensors built in. Such a device would be extremely useful for architects and engineers working with programs like Virtus WalkThrough, although you might need a lot of processing power to take advantage of the combination. The main Nintendo device that I would like to try with the Gold Brick is the Power Glove. It's a slightly scaled down version of the glove used by the virtual reality people, but is definitely a step in the right direction as far as computer controls go. I suspect that it wouldn't even be all that hard to combine the Power Glove technology with the Infogrip's chord keyboard technology so you could type on a virtual keyboard. I suppose that would produce a whole slew of hypochondriacs complaining of virtual repetitive strain injuries. :-)

As much as the Gold Brick is impressive, Vivid Effects of Toronto has an even better idea. In Mandala, they've made the controller itself virtual by using a video camera attached to an Amiga and some custom hardware. The camera films you and can insert you into an animation from a paint program or into a laserdisc, at which point you can interact with the other entities in the reality to the extent the software allows. Currently, Vivid Effects has two versions, a high-end version that interfaces with a laserdisc and a low-end version that only requires a video camera and a digitizing board and is much cheaper, but can't work with the laserdisc.

Using the virtual controller gives Mandala a number of advantages over current controller schemes. You don't have to wear goggles or a body suit or a glove or anything like that, and other people can join in the same reality with ease. In addition, the Mandala technology makes it easier to mix virtual controls with real ones, if for instance, you were in a cockpit simulation. Vivid Effects said that Mandala is quite popular, especially with science museums and the like because they could set up a virtual reality and let lots of visitors play with it. They expect a significant increase in popularity when they port the hardware to the Mac and the PC, since the Amiga, for all its features, is still a fairly limited market.

Transfinite Systems -- 617/969-9570
Vivid Effects -- 416/340-9290

Information from:
Transfinite System propaganda
Vivid Effects representative

Related articles:
TidBITS-019/03-Sep-90
MacWEEK -- 07-May-91, Vol. 5, #18, pg. 11
Macworld -- Feb-91, pg. 127

 

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