On Monday, toy maker Merge virtually blasted its way into CES 2018 with a new tech-meets-toys innovation in the form of an augmented reality gun controller for use with smartphone-powered first-person shooter apps.
The 6DoF Blaster (6DoF refers to "six degrees of freedom"), apparently named by Merge's engineering department, includes a universal dock for a smartphone, which becomes the heads-up display and content viewer for AR FPS games. The accessory leverages positional tracking to turn real world environments into virtual battlefronts and includes four physical buttons for additional in-game actions.
"What we've created is an intuitive and accessible virtual reality product and platform for the mass market. We can deliver a high-end, positionally tracked VR experience and put it in a form factor that's easy to use," said Franklin Lyons, the founder of Merge, in a company statement. "Merge 6DoF Blaster is a breakthrough product that will make virtual reality more practical for users and great for developers to build innovative gaming experiences."
Accessories for first-person shooting games in augmented reality have been a dream of numerous electronics companies over the years. In fact, Amazon is practically littered with various takes on the idea, with generic names such as the ELP AR Gun, the AR Toy Game Gun, and the Oct17 AR Gun Bluetooth Toy. Moreover, Merge must contend with ARKit-powered games like ARZombi and Army of Robots that create a similar experience with no additional accessory purchase necessary.
Despite the crowded field, Merge seems confident that it can become a leader in the category, and has an SDK arriving later this year to enable developers to developer their own apps for the blaster.
"Our blaster uses technology that makes all previous VR/AR blasters obsolete, so companies interested in creating their own will want to make them MERGE-compatible," said Jeremy Kenisky, vice president of creative at Merge. "This is [a] great opportunity for manufacturers, because their customers will have access to a wide range of content, and it's great for developers because their software will reach a larger audience. This arrangement works well for consumers, too, because it solves all compatibility issues. Any Merge-compatible blaster they buy will work with all the content available."
The company has the clout to back up its talk. Merge has carved a niche for itself with an array of augmented reality and virtual reality products that cater to kids, including the Merge Cube, which acts as 3D marker for displaying Vuforia-powered AR content, and Merge Goggles, a mobile phone-powered VR headset with a camera window to enable AR experiences. The company has also nurtured its own Miniverse for apps and experiences for these devices.
Merge is aiming to have the 6DoF Blaster in retail stores this summer, but in the meantime, the company will have the device on display during CES (booth 21523 in South Hall 1 of the Las Vegas Convention Center).