news\ Mar 5, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Utah professor invents more tactile, stretchy controller


William Provancher, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Utah, wasn't happy with the multitude of controllers available on the market. Or maybe he and his three engineering students were just bored. Whatever the reason, their passion was the same: Video games are a great way to relax and escape from the pressures of work.

To make his leisure time even more satisfying, Provancher designed a brand new video game controller, one with lucrative possibilies. The professor and his creative team are demonstrating the technology this week at the Haptics Symposium in Vancouver, a conference that explores the physical feedback and general relationship between computers and their human operators. Their controller is a perfect example.

The technology not only rumbles, but also simulates force feedback with miniature joysticks that stretch, push, and pull with your thumbs. In other words, it more genuinely conveys the sensation of a taut fishing line or the location and impact of a nearby explosion.

"As a researcher you’re always trying to get it [the technology] out into the real world," Provancher said. "If a thousand people read my paper that’s great. But it’s better if a hundred thousand use your technology in a product." The professor hopes to have the technology ready for the next generation of game consoles.

Built-in rumble is a common feature with today's controllers, but the Nintendo 64 first introduced basic force feedback to home consoles in 1997 via the rumble pak. Provancher means to expand the tactile possibilities of controllers with his new model. Do you think this technology is practical enough to implement in most video games?

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Stephanie Carmichael Twitter: @wita
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