The Sixense STEM

The STEM by Sixense is a wireless motion tracking system that provides precise motion tracking and control for virtual reality experiences. The system is still in development, but is slated for a December 2015 release.

The system is in many ways a successor to the Razer Hydra, a licenced product also developed and produced by Sixense. The Hydra was very similar to the STEM, with the exception that it only tracked your hands and was wired. It was therefore a sit-down system.

The STEM on the other hand, can track the user’s orientation and position whether sitting down or moving around the room. The STEM uses up to five tracking sensors. Usually one for each hand, each foot and for the head. Other configurations are possible, for example, if you are using and HMD that already does head tracking the fifth STEM sensor may be used at another point, such as the waist.

The STEM uses neither optical tracking nor inertial sensors. Instead it used electromagnetic motion tracking. The base station emits a field with a 16 ft. diameter (8 ft. radius) range. However you move within that field, the STEM knows the exact orientation of each sensor. relative to the base station. Because it doesn’t use light there is no way to obscure the signal between the sensor and the base station. Also, since the system doesn’t use inertial sensors there’s no sensor drift over time and very little latency.

Sixense claims this translates into a motion tracking system that’s one of the most accurate, practical and affordable for what it can do.

The STEM is quite modular. The base station is essential, but various configurations are possible. The 2-tracker STEM system uses just a base station and two STEM controllers, one for each hand. Essentially this is equivalent to a wireless Razer Hydra. STEM trackers can then be added to create either a three or five tracker configuration.

According to Sixense the STEM supports just about every game out there. Their motion creator software creates profiles that translate motion data into control commands the target software can understand. For example, if a video game uses an analogue stick to move forward or look around that control input is mapped to the relevant motion. This approach means the STEM is already compatible with a large library of software are profiled within the motion creator.

The STEM is also backwards compatible with its predecessor the Hydra. Games designed to work with the Hydra will also work with the STEM, further expanding its software list.

Of course, the idea is to have developers build native support for the STEM into their games and software. In order to encourage this Sixense has made the platform open and the SDK is available on multiple platforms.

Pricing for the STEM is already available and the base 2-tracker bundle comes to $300. The complete bundle costs $579. Components can also be bought individually.

From what we know the STEM appears to be a solid, user-friendly and effective tracking system. Combined with an HMD such as the Oculus Rift it promises a high degree of presence and immersion.

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