The Novint Falcon is a desktop haptic robot device, although you’ll also hear it referred to as a “3D mouse” in some literature. It’s used to simulate touch in a virtual world, allowing you to “feel” virtual objects or other physical forces. Be sure to read our article Getting to Grips With Haptics for a general overview of the technology.
Unlike professional desktop haptic robots that cost thousands of Dollars, the Falcon is marketed primarily as a gaming peripheral. As such it isn’t as advanced as the Geomagic Touch, for example, but brings a wholly different form of interaction with virtual entertainment.
Gamers are no strangers to “force feedback” systems, controllers that have motorized components to simulate the feeling of what’s happening on-screen. Almost all gamepads now come with rumble motors which can make very fine vibrations to simulate everything from the recoil of a gun to the feel of the road beneath a vehicle’s wheels. Likewise, force feedback joysticks and steering wheels have been on the market for years, allowing more realistic simulation of aircraft and vehicle controls.
The Falcon builds on this area of game control by providing touch output for your hands. The device consists of three motorized arms attached to an interchangeable end-effector. As standard this end-effector is a ball grip, but custom attachments such as a pistol grip are available.
In this video you can clearly see the Falcon in action, take note of the range of motion available to the device. When the in-game gun is fired you can clearly see the arms jerk back and forth in synch with the individual shots.
The list of games with native support for the Falcon is not extensive, but there are quite a few notable titles there. Certainly enough to make the device worthwhile.
Apart from gaming applications the Falcon can also be used for professional purposes, such as telerobotic applications or training simulations. End effectors can be made to simulate various tools with controls of the right type and location.
For a device that only costs about $200 the Falcon is a rather remarkably capable machine, especially compared to its multi-thousand Dollar competitors. It uses a bog-standard USB2 interface, takes up 9x9x9 inches of space, has 4x4x4 inches of 3D touch space and can exert up to 2 lbs of force (about 8.9 Newtons). The device can simulate the feeling of objects to a sub-millimetre precision and refreshed 1000 per second, making the experience very smooth.
The falcon make seem like device, and the truth is that it is. In fact, with the current upsurge in mainstream virtual reality development it may find itself effectively made obsolete by cheaper and simpler solutions, but it shows that a desktop haptic robot can be affordable, effective and practical. Perhaps, with the resurgent interest in virtual reality and enough community support the Falcon may even see its popularity increase significantly.