It’s been a wild and thrilling ride so far as we’ve progressed from a prototype that wasn’t at all commercially viable to a product line with 15 consumer models and from a mere 4 minutes of motion coding to well over 500 full-length motion pictures.
Rob Robinson | D-BOX
Simulation: Evolution of an Emerging Technology
It's been a wild and thrilling ride so far as we've progressed from a prototype that wasn't at all commercially viable to a product line with 15 consumer models and from a mere 4 minutes of motion coding to well over 500 full-length motion pictures.
What began eight years ago with a revolutionary concept, a personal computer, a printer motor and the back seat from a minivan has evolved into a robust, mature technology that promises to change forever how we perceive entertainment at home. The concept was to develop an entirely new way to experience home entertainment by adding dramatic, realistic motions, perfectly synchronized to audio and video. The initial concept model (as shown below) was admittedly a bit crude but sufficiently demonstrative to begin what became a massive, multimillion dollar research and development project that would take nearly four years and involve a diverse team of mechanical and electronics engineers, university researchers, computer programmers and scientists.
While there had certainly been motion simulators before this, none had been developed specifically for home entertainment use and most were extremely large, prohibitively expensive commercial systems for theme parks and equipment training. Also, the vast majority of these were dedicated to a specific, dedicated event of rather short duration.
The concept that D-BOX® had was to develop an entirely new type of motion simulator that could be used with existing audio and video equipment and common seating. They envisioned a product that would incorporate motorized pistons (Actuators) that could be placed under the four corners of a platform or existing seating and, together with a computerized control system, synchronize with the same DVDs that consumers already own and rent.
Our first product, the Odyssee® Motion Simulator, was previewed at the Consumer Electronics Show in January of 1999, where it won a prestigious Innovations Design & Engineering Award. However, the prototype shown there was a far cry from a market-ready consumer product and it took another two years before a final version was ready for sale.
While that initial CES prototype had Actuators that were too large to fit under furniture and required an entire bank of computers to operate, it did generate considerable interest on the part of the rapidly growing home theater industry. The following year a new prototype was unveiled at CES that featured Actuators with a much lower profile, a prototype motion controller that was self-contained and about 4 minutes of motion coding of a single film for demonstration purposes.
At CES in January of 2001, we were finally ready to unveil a market-ready consumer product. This initial Odyssee 1.4 model consisted of four low-profile Actuators that featured high torque brushless AC motors and a final drive that incorporated a hydraulic piston capable of 5/8" of vertical lift at up to 2 Gs of acceleration. Each Actuator had a lifting capacity of 400 pounds which meant that we could lift an entire platform up to 8 feet wide by 4 feet deep weighing up to 1,600 pounds (combined weight of platform, seating and occupants), enough for a large sofa or up to 3 typical home theater recliners.
This system also featured our first standalone Kinetron™ motion controller, capable of controlling up to four separate platforms, with a CD-ROM drive for the motion codes that were beginning to be authored by our kinetic motion artists, frame-by frame, for specific movies. At the time of this launch we had motion codes for four feature-length films completed and our plan was to send registered owners a new CD each month with new titles as they were added to our library.
By the Fall of 2002, our motion code library had grown to over 120 titles and at the CEDIA Expo trade show in September we introduced our second model, Odyssee XL (for Xtra Lift). This new model featured larger Actuators, capable of lifting 600 pounds each with 7/8" of vertical lift, enabling us to now move platforms up to 12 feet wide by 5 feet deep weighing up to 2,400 pounds. This new higher capacity meant we could offer systems that would add the drama and excitement of motion for larger, heavier seating areas with an extra ¼" of vertical lift so there would be no compromise in the integrity of motion delivered.
January of 2003, saw the long-awaited introduction of a new Series 2 240c motion controller that featured a built-in 40 GB hard drive capable of storing the motion codes for thousands of movies. This eliminated the need to swap F/X Motion Code discs, something that was becoming a bit of a hassle now that we had more movies encoded than would fit onto a single CD-ROM disc. And, the really good news was that our engineers had been planning for this from the beginning so that every Series 1 system out there could be upgraded to Series 2 with a field-installable upgrade kit.
In the spring of 2003, we proved that making our motion simulation truly interactive with high-end computer gaming was possible when we exhibited with Activision at the giant E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) gaming show in Los Angeles. We mounted an Odyssee system under the front seats of a vintage WWII Jeep® fitted with a plasma screen in place of the windshield and were able to demonstrate fully interactive motion encoding with their new Call of Duty® action-adventure game. The system responded beautifully with every control movement and scene change and was unqualifiedly one of the hits of the show. However, in the months that followed we learned the sad truth that the gaming industry is all about numbers and game developers simply weren't interested in working with us unless we were talking hundreds of thousands or millions of units! Despite this setback, we've never given up on interactive motion simulation for gaming and are confident that we'll eventually be able to deliver a solution to the tens of thousands of serious PC gamers out there who routinely invest serious money into very high-end PC gaming systems.
By the time September of 2003, rolled around we had expanded our motion code library to over 200 titles. However, even more exciting was the fact that we previewed an entirely new type of motion system at CEDIA Expo. Our new Odyssee "V" systems featured vertically-oriented, direct-drive Actuators that could be built directly into the arms of qualified home theater seating. This eliminated the need for seating platforms and opened the door for system designers and decorators to incorporate D-BOX motion simulation into situations where platforms were impractical or visually undesirable.
2004 was a very busy and productive year for our growing team of engineers and motion artists. When we arrived at CEDIA Expo in September our motion code library had grown to over 350 titles and we introduced a major redesign of all of our Actuators. From the beginning, each of our Actuators had incorporated internal drive electronics that required a substantial amount of space within each mechanism. The new SynDrive™ systems that we introduced at CEDIA feature a new Actuator Control Module which contains the drive electronics for a pair of Actuators. This provides a common, more intelligent interface for both platform-based and integrated systems and allows us to significantly reduce the size of the vertical, direct-drive Actuators for integrated systems. We now have an integrated solution that may easily be built into the arms of virtually any "custom" home theater seating that is sufficiently reinforced to withstand the severe motional forces generated by our systems.
Perhaps even more important was what took place "behind the scenes" at this CEDIA show, where we conducted private demonstrations to select retailers and journalists of a new integrated seating line we call Quest™. Featuring a pair of the new SynDrive vertical Actuators mounted into the rear of the arms and a front center pivot, Quest is a new 2-axis "plug and play" motion system that significantly reduces the price (starting at about 1/5 the price of a typical Odyssee platform system) and complexity of adding the drama and excitement of D-BOX motion simulation to a home entertainment system.
At CES in January of 2005, we formally introduced Quest Series 100 in a 12-seat theater that really got the point across as attendees experienced three entire rows of individual recliners move in perfect synch with the onscreen action. We also announced that Quest would be available as both a single recliner and a dual recliner loveseat with a choice of 7 colors in durable NuSuede and 10 colors in 100% Premium Leather with 2-stage motorized recliner mechanisms (the footrest comes fully up before the back begins to recline, critical for obtaining the optimum viewing position).
These new Quest chairs and loveseats feature incredibly strong and rigid frames of 13-ply European birch plywood with hardwood cross members and metal-to-metal fasteners (no wood screws to vibrate loose) with optional cupholders. There are matching, non-activated chairs and recliners available for those who wish to do a large theater but only have some of their seating motion-activated (these may be upgraded by their dealer at a later date by installing the motion components, typically in less than an hour per seat).
Also announced at CES were two new Series 3 motion controllers, both with the ability to download new motion codes directly from the Internet! The 340c is a standalone motion controller that's only half the height of its predecessor while the PC3 is a motion control interface that uses a connected PC running Windows® 2000 or XP via a standard USB connection. Both feature automatic title recognition and load the appropriate motion codes in about 10-15 seconds (several orders of magnitude faster than the 240c) from anywhere within the movie, add optical (TOSLINK) connections to the existing coaxial ones for the digital audio interface for synchronization and incorporate an entirely new Motion/Vibration control that together with adjustable motion intensity enables users to fine-tune their motion experiences to personal preferences.
We've just returned from this year's CEDIA Expo where we introduced two new additions to the Quest line: Series 200 and X3me™. Quest Series 200 features a more traditional, club chair styling than the contemporary look of Series 100 in addition to an articulated, adjustable headrest (removable for those who take their surround sound seriously). It has the same rugged construction, motion components and 2-axis performance as Series 100 and differs only in appearance.
And for those of you for whom "too much is never enough", Quest X3me (pronounced Extreme) represents the most intensive motion experience we've created to date. It features three SynDrive Actuators (one in the front of each arm and one mounted center rear) with a full 1 ½" of vertical travel in a 3-axis system that must be experienced to be believed. With the most travel of any D-BOX consumer system yet and the three pistons so close together, it delivers motion angles that really amp up the motion experience to the point where it might need seat belts if we took it any further. X3me is available only as a single chair in Premium Leather with color-coordinated accents in a new nanofiber material called Novasuede® that is 1,000 times finer than silk but has the look of carbon fiber and the feel of fine kidskin. For obvious reasons, Quest X3me will NOT be available with cupholders.
That covers the hardware, but what really makes D-BOX motion simulation so incredibly special is the talented group of kinetic motion artists who so diligently create our F/X Motion Codes, frame-by-frame. Their artistry and craftsmanship have grown right alongside our hardware developments and without them our products would be as uninteresting and useless as a 1080p projector without high-def content! To date they have encoded over 500 full-length motion pictures (at an average of 50-60 hours per title) and their skills just keep getting better and better! We are justifiably proud of them and the entirely new, almost magical, entertainment experience that they have helped us create. In the not too distant future you'll see "motion artist" in movie credits alongside cinematographer and Foley artist as we're rapidly approaching the day when DVDs will begin to be released with motion codes right on the disc.
So, that's a not too brief but hopefully informative and interesting look at the evolution of motion simulation for home entertainment. It's been a wild and thrilling ride so far as we've progressed from a prototype that wasn't at all commercially viable to a product line with 15 consumer models and from a mere 4 minutes of motion coding to well over 500 full-length motion pictures. Stay tuned, our engineers and motion artists are busier than ever and there's definitely more to come in the exciting months and years ahead.
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of HomeToys
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