with Jim Richardson, NaturalPoint President
have the pleasure of talking to Jim Richardson, president
of NaturalPoint -the makers of TrackIR, who has supplied a
substantial part of his busy day to answer our questions.
to SimHQ.com Jim!
Could you begin by telling us how NaturalPoint came to be,
and whats your history.
NaturalPoint was originally called Eye Control Technologies
and was founded in 1996. As you can guess, we started out
making eye tracking systems. The company was started because,
years before, my cousin was in a severe accident and could
no longer communicate in any manner but eye movement. I had
been going to college at Berkeley, majoring in mechanical
engineering, and wasn't really interested in the material,
so I decided to put my education on hold and start the company
with my partner, Birch Zimmer, who does all the programming,
to pursue alternative input devices for people with disabilities.
Our first product was the ION E, an eye tracking system, and
they are still in use today, although we no longer sell the
product. We transitioned the company into head tracking because
we could reach a much wider audience and help more people.
Our technology revolutionized head tracking for people with
disabilities, who were used to paying over $1500 for a similar
device. Fortunately, we have some great users and one of them
had a trackIR and loved flight sims, and there the discovery
was made. I started monitoring the SimHQ message boards and
the rest is history.
initial development of TrackIR was with people with disabilities
our company was started to create alternative means of interfacing
with computers for people with disabilities. We made eye tracking
systems for about 2 years, but found that the setup was too
tricky for non technical people, so we moved to head tracking,
which is also a much larger marketplace. We feel that the
assistive technology marketplace is very demanding and that
our products must meet very high standards when being used
as a primary communication device all the time. In the same
way, the gaming community demands a quality product, so we
see a good fit with these markets, first developing technology
for assistive applications and then releasing more consumer-oriented
devices that follow the same path.
was no deliberate effort from the start to make TrackIR a
gaming peripheral as well.
had always hoped that our products would find a larger market,
but we did not find flight sims on our own. It was actually
a user of the trackIR who pointed us in this new direction
and opened our eyes to the world of flight simulation. Obviously,
we love people to point out new applications for our technology
and this idea was one of the best.
have any figures of how many TrackIR units that have been
sold to people with disabilities versus gamers?
we do keep track of all this information, but we don't release
precise figures. I can say that thousands of systems have
been sold over the last 2 years. Also, this was the first
month that sales of the trackIR (for games and simulations)
have been greater than the SmartNav (for the assistive technology
market). We expect this trend to continue.
figures surprise you, or are they a result of dedicated marketing
towards either area?
are a bit surprising, but not for the reasons you might think.
We expected the gaming market would adopt the trackIR much
faster than it has, because the market place is so much bigger
than assistive technology, and that there is an easy way to
reach the users. We have found that potential users just don't
intuitively understand how the device works. Specifically,
how you can move your head to change your view and not be
looking at the wall next to you instead of the monitor. Now,
what we having going for us is great word of mouth from our
users, who are the best I have ever seen.
see the problem. I guess that has to be experienced to be
with you at NaturalPoint? Who makes the wheels turn?
a nice small company, about 8 employees. The only things that
are important to us is loving our work and having new things
to do. My area of expertise is in image tracking / processing
from a hardware perspective and also general mechanical and
electrical engineering. Birch Zimmer handles all the firmware
and low level programming. Eric Jennings is the Windows guy
who makes it all look good and work. All the design and construction
of the trackIR is done in house, by us guys.
a year and a half since I first tested the TrackIR, and wrote
the review. Much has happened since then, in the world in
general for sure, but also at NaturalPoint. What have the
major goals been the last year and a half?
have been to refine and segment our product line. We now have
two separate web sites, one for the smart-NAV and one for
the trackIR. There have been many improvements to the device
in both hardware and software. We all know that the economy
hasn't been the best so we have also been working hard to
build our dealer list and find opportunities for growth with
the trackIR. We feel that this coming year is going to be
our best ever and we can't wait to see what is going to happen.
been several updates to the TrackIR software since the review.
Amongst other improvements there has been several additions
and updates with gaming in mind. Is this a continuing effort
from your side?
we are now actively focused on creating and maintaining a
gaming specific version of our headtracker. We segmented the
software to create trackIR and smart-NAV specific versions
not long ago, and now we are working on a completely new version
of the trackIR software. This is being created from the ground
up for sims and gaming. We think its important to continually
rev and release new code with feedback from the trackIR community,
as it helps the product become better and better for users.
Is that a TrackIR with other software and target user?
the Smart-NAV is a hands free cursor control system targeted
at people with disabilities and ergonomic issues. It is basically
what the trackIR started out as, but we decided to keep the
name trackIR for the gaming system and introduce
the new name smart-NAV for the original product
line. trackIR has a more gaming feel to it.
improvements will we see, software and hardware wise, that
are of interest for PC games/simulations fans?
are improvements all the time, in both hardware and software.
We revise the hardware about every 3 months, to reduce the
time it takes to make a system and help reduce the cost of
the system, in addition to making them more reliable. A great
example of this is our new lens system. We made a new mold
for a custom lens that fits right onto the imager and it increased
the FOV and made the center of the imager be the center of
where the device is pointed. New hardware features are a clear
case, which looks great, and new custom molded rubber feet
to go over the metal base. There were some issues with the
older feet coming off or the metal scratching laptops, but
now there are nice rubber boots on there. Also, the metal
base is no longer laser cut, but stamped, so the edges are
very clean. You will be able to see pictures of this on our
new site. Software wise, we are releasing a new version that
has support for our Remote Software Interface built in. There
will be games that take advantage of this new capability soon.
it there for a minute! First, explain the new lens, if you
would. What will that mean to us Simmers?
lens is now absolute to the imager, it is placed right on
the imager. The older systems had a separate lens that was
part of the housing and could be off center from the imager,
giving the feeling that the unit wasnt looking straight
at the target. It is all a very fine adjustment when dealing
with lenses and imagers, so it is important to line everything
up correctly. Also, the larger FOV will allow for new accessories
to be added easily, like an active LED on a hat brim.
about the Remote Software interface? Meaning?
question. This is something that our users have been after
for quite some time. What we have always needed is a direct
interface to the game, a way around the mouse panning interface.
With this capability we can avoid the multiple mouse scaling
setting, in Windows, our program and the game, and have an
absolute cockpit to work in. This will mean that we can have
dead zones, non linear scaling and never have to reset the
center of the cockpit. This is an active project
that Halstead is working on. As many users may have heard,
we are expecting full support in IL-2 FB, as indicated by
Please go on
broader scale, we will be increasing the speed of the hardware
and the resolution of the imager in the future. We run at
60FPS now and should be able to up that to 120FPS. This will
reduce latency in the cursor or view motion. Also, we will
increase the resolution of the imager for finer control. These
changes are not critical for flight and driving sims, but
very important to other types of games like first person shooters.
This will also enable us to eventually work well with video
console games where users are generally farther from the screen.
Version 2.0 software will be out in a few months and there
will be major changes in it. We have been listening to user
feedback and many suggestions will make it in, including a
dead zone and nonlinear scaling. It will also have a completely
new user interface, and will focus on make individual user
set-up for different games as easy as possible. Finally, we
will be releasing a new NaturalPoint hat with integrated dot
in a month or so. This hat will be very high quality and will
help make the trackIR work better because of the larger reflective
area and that the "dot" is further from the center
of rotation of your head. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, we are
working on an ACTIVE LED project! The active LED in place
of a reflective dot will greatly enhance the overall performance
of the trackIR. I have read of some users going down to Radio
Shack (I actually worked there some in college) and making
their own active LED units, so we figured that we can lend
a hand and make a new accessory. Look for it to be at the
top of our list after version 2.0 is out.
are very aware of what an increase in FPS means, but a hat?
Will the hat have the active LED, or a regular dot? How will
a larger reflective area make TrackIR work better?
allows for more throw when using the trackIR.
The unit simply interprets the amount of translation of the
dot and moves the cursor a corresponding amount. By having
more translation you can decrease your scaling factor and
smoothing so that the movement is more precise. The initial
hats will have a dot built into them that is larger than a
standard dot, this greater surface area allows for more precise
tracking because there is more information to calculate the
dot center point from and the dot can be seen from a greater
angle. There will be an active LED to hook onto the hat as
much for the gadgetry. What about the community support and
started a very big push towards gaming with the trackIR. First,
we have a new web site that will be launching shortly. On
the new site will be track files and gameplay footage submitted
by our users that highlight how the trackIR works. In addition,
there will be better pictures of the device in action. Also,
we recently launched our own user forums, which is already
at about 100 users! Finally, we have hired Halstead York,
a marketing professional with experience in the gaming industry.
Halstead is responsible for much of what you will see and
all of the games that will have built in trackIR support.
I you were
to draw, or sketch, a road map for the future developments,
what would it look like?
looking to have version 2.0 software out around the first
of the year. This will add a number of features and capabilities
to current trackIR users. A "pro" version with the
enhanced imager described above should be out in Q3. This
will be great for all of the current gaming applications,
as well as a number of enhanced features for tactical first
person shooters like Operation Flashpoint and Rainbow Six.
Some *very* new stuff, offering more freedom of movement (without
the crazy, obtrusive form factors usually associated with
such products), will be out in Q4. Were planning on
having new products every 3-6 months.
like you guys are going to be pretty busy..!
pricing of the new gadgets? Will there be package deals perhaps?
is more of a question for Halstead, but I think that you will
be seeing a more tiered product line, with intro models and
more advanced ones. This will be much like the high end video
been frequent visits to the SimHQ.com message boards by NaturalPoint
employees that have provided support and listened to end-user
input. Is this a company policy, to roam the internet and
helping out wherever you can, or is it by own initiative?
really both. We have a duty to our users to help them out
and monitor the boards, but it is also a ton of fun to find
out what people are up to and what unique problem or suggestion
they may have. Honestly, I browse the boards when I need to
take a break from work and have some fun reading posts.
great to have such direct contact with developers.
has the TrackIR users had on the decisions for the increased
development of TrackIR soft/hardware towards simulation games?
is driven by our users. All the new features in version 2.0
of the profiler come from the boards and emails that we get.
When we receive more than a few prompts for the same feature
then it goes on a very large white board in Eric's office.
So when I say, "it is on the board", I mean it is
literally on the white board! Also, we just love to see our
dedicated users post on the boards about their experiences
with the trackIR, and then to see new people jump on board
after they get one. It is great to make new toys and then
have people enjoy them and give such good feedback about how
to make it even better. I only wish that we had more resources
to devote to our development program as things seem to take
forever to get done.
simulator that has been released since my review of trackIR
is IL2-Sturmovik by Maddox Games/BlueByte. IL2 works really
well with trackIR, almost like they designed those beautiful
fast scrolling 3D cockpits with trackIR in mind. They set
the industry standard for 3D cockpits, and others are to follow
in their tracks. What role does NaturalPoint play here? Are
you actively seeking to implement game support for TrackIR?
this is our number one priority. Halstead is in charge of
this area and works with game developers on a daily basis
to make sure that they integrate direct trackIR support. We
recently finished the specification for our Remote Interface
to the trackIR software, and its been sent out to a
number of developers who are actively working on implementing
it in their games and mods. There are a number of very familiar
names currently playing with the new interface ;). In the
next week or so we will be releasing trackIR software that
supports this interface and then games will start to appear
that work with it. I think that this will be a real revolution
for our users. The experience will be very similar to how
FS2002 is now, but easier to use and with even more control
over your settings. We are very exited about it.
in my review that TrackIR is the best solution for headtracking,
until Head mounted Displays are cheaper and better. Are there
any plans or dreams for making a headmounted display for the
TrackIR. I mean, that would really be the optimum Simulation
been talking about this on the boards in the past few weeks.
I am lucky to have all the best toys including most all commercial
HMDs made. I personally dont like the experience that
much when compared to a large monitor. I like to be able to
see my stick and keyboard. My ideal setup is to have a large
projector in front of a home made cockpit, like some guys
have posted on this and other sites. I think that this gives
you the best experience overall. I have tried this with a
trackIR and the experience is overwhelming. Another benefit
of having a projector is that you can watch movies on it as
well. Look at the high end military sims, they all are projector
based and provide the most real experience possible.
there will be a cheap HMD with a good FOV that we will all
love, but that day hasnt come yet. The best hope is
in the new OLED area. Check out http://www.emagin.com/
for a good example. There are several issues to HMDs that
wont be solved for some time, such as the optics required
for an immersive display and the inner ear problems associated
with a scene that doesnt move when your head does (your
eyes are always compensating for this and you get sick when
it doesnt happen). If and when it happens I will be
the first one to sign up.
Ill be right behind you! ;-)
been great talking to you! Good luck in the future!
We will follow the developments with great interest!
Keep up the good work!
so much for letting me participate in this interview. I have
enjoyed the process and hope that our users and potential
users find the information helpful.
our talk with Jim Richardson, President of NaturalPoint.
were in for an eventful year 2003. Well see many
new developments and improvements. Hats, Active LEDs,
new lenses and software
What it all will mean in the
end remains to be seen. But SimHQ.com will be on the ball,
so stay tuned folks!
here to go to top of this page.
Copyright 2008, SimHQ.com. All Rights Reserved. Contact the webmaster.