Friday, January 27, 2006

Digital Puppetry Hardware, part 3: The P5 Glove

The P5 Glove by Alliance Distributors offers fantastic potential for digital puppetry at a low, low price.

In my last post I wrote about the Nintendo Power Glove, the legendary but not-quite-so-revolutionary controller for the NES. Assuming that some kind of similar and relatively affordable dataglove would be a necessary part of any widely accessible digital puppetry system, I set out about a month ago to locate one and found the P5 Glove, a cheap (usually $65 or less retail) computer peripheral that uses bend sensors and remote tracking to allow users to intuitively interact with 3D and virtual environments.

I haven't actually gotten my hands on one of these yet, but the consensus from the online reviews that I've read is that the P5 is a very good product, especially for it's price range. In fact, it's probably the best glove ever designed at such a low price point. Its only drawbacks are that (like the Nintendo Power Glove before it) the P5's motion tracking is line-of-sight and there are indications that its bend sensors may be somewhat limited. I think the biggest problem with the P5 may be that the lack of games or applications available for it has meant it's gotten a lukewarm reception in the marketplace so far. This makes me doubt that future generations of the product will be produced and it could be discontinued altogether.

But problems aside, the P5 has a lot of potential. A strong developer community has sprung up around it and it's been hacked for use in everything from music to robotics. For those of you who are technically inclined, here's some interesting links for developing applications for the P5:
  • Disassembling the P5 - an article that "looks inside" the P5 and its tower
  • P5 Specs - From manufacturer Alliance Distributors (formerly Essential Reality)
  • P5 SDKs - P5 Glove software development kits for Windows and Linux
There are already a number of open source MIDI drivers available for the P5 and since a lot of animatronics boards are MIDI-controlled I couldn't help thinking that it would be cool to try using a P5 to control an animatronic puppet, much like Perform FX does with their proprietary glove.

But even if the P5 Glove is a nice consumer-grade control device for digital puppetry, there's still a need for a better, high-performance solution for professional applications.

The results of the search for that will be the subject of my next post...

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