Is Sony Going to Launch Its Own ‘Powerglove’ for the PSVR?

PSVRWith the launch of Sony’s Playstation VR less than two months away, Sony continues to be busy on the patent front with respect to virtual reality.  Earlier today, two patent applications assigned to Sony Computer Entertainment, each entitled “Magnetic Tracking of Glove Fingertips,” were published by the USPTO.  The full patent application can be seen here.

While Sony has filed patents for a similar technology in the past, these new patent publications (originally filed in February 2015) relate to a “magnetic tracking system to track fingertips and knuckles … that capture hand/finger pose.”

As seen in FIG. 4A (right), Sony’s application describes a glove Sony Magnetic Gloveinterface object having a plurality of emitters and proximity sensors.  The proximity sensors (404a-e) are located at the fingertip portions/areas of the glove, and are configured to “generate data indicating distance/proximity” to the emitters (422a-c) located on the wrist.  The application goes on to describe the wrist portion as a “bracelet that surrounds the user’s wrist when the glove … is worn.”

“The emitters are defined by electromagnets, and the proximity sensors are defined by magnetic sensors such as Hall effect sensors.”  A Hall effect sensor is a type of magnetic sensor used to detect a magnetic field. (In an alternative embodiment, Sony’s application also describes a glove system in which the emitters are defined by ultrasonic emitters and the proximity sensors are defined by microphones capable of detecting ultrasonic frequencies.)

As further described in the application, the glove will include a controller for powering and operating the sensors and emitters and communicating with the gaming console.  The controller can be configured to control the activation of the emitters and the reading of the proximity sensors in a time division multiplexed arrangement.

Obviously, Sony’s published patent applications do not necessarily mean that a commercial product will ever see the light of day.  However, it can be a good indicator of where Sony is spending its R&D dollars when it comes to virtual reality.  And with the timing of these multiple patent application filings, as well as the length and specificity of each application, it is not completely far-fetched that Sony has its own version of a ‘Powerglove’ in the works for the PSVR.

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DirecTV Files Patent Application for Viewing “Set Top Box Content” on a Virtual Reality Device

The_DirecTV_logoLast week, the USPTO published DirecTV’s patent application for delivering “set top box content” to a virtual reality display device.  This appears to be one of the first published patent applications by a major MVPD (“multichannel video programming distributor”), and could signal that the industry is ready to push their VR chips onto the table.

DirecTV’s patent application describes transmitting a live linear television signal to a user receiving device (e.g., a set top box), which then renders the signal and transmits it to a client device (e.g., smart phone).  The client device includes a virtual reality application, which then scales the signal for display on a virtual reality device (e.g., Oculus Rift).

DirecTV patent app fig 1

Thus far, the big players in traditional (cable, satellite) video content distribution, or MVPDs (“multichannel video programming distributors”), have been relatively quiet with respect to virtual reality technology.  As seen below, most VR-related announcements by MVPDs have pertained to investments or acquisitions in studios, like NextVR.  Moreover, a recent survey of 628 entertainment and media companies showed that at least 30% of the industry considered virtual reality “a non-starter, like 3DTV.”

Non-traditional content distributors have been somewhat more forward thinking.  For example, in March, Hulu announced it would begin streaming content to Samsung Gear devices. Netflix also released a 360 promotional video last week in conjunction with its popular series, “Stranger Things.”

Top Ten MVPDs VR

Sony Files Shocking Patent Application for Monitoring and Counteracting Motion Sickness

Nausea.  Retching.  Headaches.  All-too-familiar symptoms for those unfortunate individuals who have experienced “virtual reality sickness” (and also, for those who have been to a Kenny G concert).  Often compared to motion sickness, or kinetosis, the condition can arise in a user when there is a disagreement between “visually perceived” movement and the vestibular system’s sense of movement.  In short, it is a major challenge for VR content developers, and also one of the reasons why several HMD companies have recommended that games run at a minimum of 90 FPS.

To deal with this problem, Sony has filed a patent application entitled132 “Motion Sickness Monitoring and Application of Supplemental Sound to Counteract Sickness.”  The patent application was originally filed on February 5, 2015 and published today.  To detect motion sickness, the application describes monitoring a user’s body motion, pupil motion, gaze, head motion, balance, or “by tracking facial expressions of the user that may indicate motion sickness (e.g., a gagging motion, sticking out the tongue, etc.).”

When motion sickneSony AMS FIG 2ss is detected, the system takes action by delivering “supplemental sound,” reducing the intensity of the game or vibrating the headset.  Sony’s application claims that supplemental sound has a therapeutic effect, and in particular, describes a system to deliver “bone conduction audio” by transmitting audible or ultrasonic sound waves through a portion of a user’s skull close to the ear.  These vibrations can be generated by a device incorporated into the strap of the HMD.

Sony’s application goes on to describe further embodiments for battling motion sickness including transmitting microwaves that are “safe for the inner ear,” infrared stimulation and “small electric shocks.”

The use of vestibular stimulation is a known technique to battle motion sickness in virtual reality environments (over fifteen years old), and some parties have already obtained patents for it. (See here and here.)  However, it will be interesting, to say the least, to see if Sony can eventually introduce this technology into its commercial PSVR headsets.  Until then, VR users will just have to keep a case of ginger ale handy.

 

Sony’s HMD Patent Application

Earlier this year, at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Sony announced that its virtual reality headset for the PS4 would launch in October 2016.  At GDC, Sony also demonstrated the social aspect of its VR systems, in which multiple players interacted with each other in a virtual reality environment.

Sony 163 Appl FIG 11

Last week, on May 12, the USPTO published Sony’s patent application, Sony Computer Entertainment’s U.S. Patent Appl. No. 14/996,163 (the ‘163 application).  The ‘163 application is simply entitled “Head Mounted Display,” claims priority to a provision filed in June 9, 2013.  The “inventive concept” of the claims here appears to be rendering a player’s hands into the virtual reality scene, as shown below in claim 17 (emphasis added).

17.    A method for operating a head mounted display (HMD), comprising,

providing the HMD having a head attachment portion and a viewing module coupled to the head attachment portion, the viewing module including an inner side having a view port into a screen configuring for rendering a virtual reality scene, and an exterior housing;

providing a communications module for exchanging data with a computer system, the computer system is configured to generate the virtual reality scene for the screen;

providing a depth camera integrated into the viewing module and oriented to capture depth data of an envrionment in front of the exterior housing; and

processing, by the computer system, the depth data captured by the depth camera to identify hands of a user wearing the HMD in the environment, wherein the hands are rendered into the virtual reality scene, the hands being tracked such that movements of the hands appear as movements of virtual hands extending into the virtual reality scene.

As evident from the claims, the rendering of the virtual hands relies upon data captured by a depth camera located on the HMD.  This is interesting because the depth camera appears to be technology that Sony developed as early as 2011 in response to Microsoft’s Kinect technology.  More information about Sony’s depth camera can be found here and here.

 

Valve’s Chaperone Patent Application

A key distinguishing “feature” of the Vive, a virtual reality system jointly developed by HTC and Valve, is room scale technology.  Room scale allows a VR system to track a user’s position within a physical space through the use of “lighthouses” placed in the corners of a room.  Room scale purports to create a more immersive experience, whereby a user can physically move about within her virtual environment.

The downside to all of this is that Vive users may run into walls … or worse.

Enter: Chaperone.  Chaperone is a feature of Vive, wherein graphical representations of physical boundaries appear when the user is about to collide with a wall. A recently published patent application reveals Valve’s attempt to patent the aptly-named feature to prevent such accidents (and perhaps avoid lawsuits like this).

Vive Chaperone Patent FIG 9

U.S. Patent Application No. 14/933,955, published on May 5, 2016, is entitled “Sensory Feedback Systems and Methods for Guiding Users in Virtual Reality Environments.”  The application is assigned to Valve, and claims priority to a provisional application filed in November 2014.  The application presently includes a single independent claim which recites, in part, “a method for warning a user of a head-mounted display of potential collisions with real-world obstacles.”  (The USPTO has yet to issue its first office action.)

The specification of the ‘955 application is an interesting read for VR enthusiasts (i.e., geeks) for other reasons.  First, for historical buffs, the application includes a photograph of an early HMD, Vive Chaperone Patent FIG 2which could be described as “less-than-flattering.”

Second, to define a user’s physical “play” space, the Vive setup currently requires a user to physically walk around the edge of the room with a controller in hand.  The specification of the ‘955 application discloses defining the boundaries of the user’s physical space through the use of “lasers or ultrasound.”  Could this be a feature of Vive 2.0?

Third, the specification also describes the “teleportation” game mechanic that is presently used in two room-scale games: the Lab and the Budget Cuts demo.  This game mechanic addresses the problem of locomotion within a “virtual space” (e.g., spacecraft hangar) that is larger than the real-world space in which the Vive system is setup (e.g., your home office).  It will be interesting to see if Valve attempts to file a continuation on this game mechanic, especially in light of Alice and the Federal Circuit’s recent decision in In re Smith.

Finally, it will also be interesting to see how the claims of the ‘955 application will change, if at all, throughout prosecution, especially in light of expectations that Oculus will be implementing its own room scale technology in the near future.