Power Glove

Power glove

The Power Glove is a controller accessory for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and the first peripheral interface controller to recreate human hand movements on a television or computer screen in real time. The Power Glove was not popular and was criticized for its imprecise and difficult-to-use controls. The Power Glove was originally released in 1989. Though it was an officially licensed product, Nintendo was not involved in the design or release of this accessory. Rather, it was designed by Grant Goddard and Samuel Cooper Davis for Abrams Gentile Entertainment (AGE), made by Mattel in the United States and PAX in Japan.

Additional development was accomplished through the efforts of Thomas G. Zimmerman and Jaron Lanier, a virtual reality pioneer responsible for co-developing and commercializing the DataGlove who had made a failed attempt at a similar design for Nintendo earlier. The Power Glove and DataGlove were based on Zimmerman’s instrumented glove. Zimmerman built the first prototype that demonstrated finger flex measurement and hand position tracking using a pair of ultrasonic transmitters. His original prototype used optical flex sensors to measure finger bending which were replaced with less expensive carbon-based flex sensors by the AGE team.

The glove has traditional NES controller buttons on the forearm as well as a program button and buttons labeled 0-9. A person presses the program button and a numbered button to input commands, such as changing the firing rate of the A and B buttons. Along with the controller, the player can perform various hand motions to control a character on-screen.

The flex sensors in the Power Glove are a carbon-based ink on plastic. Bending the flex sensors causes the carbon to compress, decreasing the resistance. The sensors in the DataGlove are based on optical fibers that are scratched near the bending joint to cause it to transmit less light when bent, an innovation developed by Young L. Harvill of VPL Research. There are two ultrasonic speakers (transmitters) in the glove and three ultrasonic microphones (receivers) around the TV monitor. The ultrasonic speakers take turns transmitting a short burst (a few pulses) of 40 kHz sound and the system measures the time it takes for the sound to reach the microphones. A triangulation calculation is performed to determine the X, Y, Z location of each of the two speakers, which specifies the yaw and roll of the hand. The only dimension it cannot calculate is the pitch of the hand, since the hand can pitch without moving the location of the two ultrasonic speakers.

The Power Glove is based on the patented technology of the VPL Dataglove, but with many modifications that allow it to be used with slow hardware and sold at an affordable price. Whereas the Dataglove can detect yaw, pitch and roll, uses fiber optic sensors to detect finger flexure and has a resolution of 256 positions (8 bits) per finger for four fingers (the pinky finger is not measured to save money, for it usually follows the movement of the ring finger), the Power Glove can only detect roll, and uses sensors coated with conductive ink yielding a resolution of four positions (2 bits) per finger for four fingers. This allows the Power Glove to store all the finger flexure information in a single byte. However, it appears that the fingers actually feed an analog signal to the microprocessor on the Power Glove. The microprocessor converts the analog signal into two bits per finger.

Only two games were released with specific features for use with the Power Glove: ‘Super Glove Ball,’ a ‘3D’ puzzle maze game, and ‘Bad Street Brawler,’ a beat ’em up. Both games were playable with the standard NES controller, but included moves that can only be used with the glove. These two games are branded as part of the ‘Power Glove Gaming Series.’ The Power Glove sold approximately 100,000 units in the U.S. Its gross sales totaled $88 million, but both it and the games bundled with it were derided by critics and consumers alike. No Power Glove-specific games ever retailed in Japan; the Power Glove was sold only as an alternative controller. This decision damaged sales and eventually caused PAX to declare bankruptcy.

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