December 6, 2019

When we interact with virtual reality, we use one type of controller: point-and-shoot. But as we go deeper into immersive technology, do we want that for everything? Probably not. Justin Berry, Lance Chantiles-Wertz, and Isaac Shelanski are currently working on a project, Clamshell, that aims to broaden our methods of interacting with virtual worlds. Originally, they conceived the idea for a controller that used electromagnets. The shape resembled a clamshell, and the name of the project was born. Last fall, the team opened the floor to other departments at Yale, including the Schools of Art, Management, Medicine, and Architecture and asked them what their ideal controller would look like. With wire, clay, paper, and almost everything else needed to build a model, each group came up with their own idea, leading Clamshell to decide to step back and think bigger. “What if, in addition to creating our own controller, we also give others an interface to create their own controller tailored to their needs?”

renderings for the “Cube” that would act as the system for sensor testing

However, they want to make sure this interface is user friendly, lowering the barrier of entry so that users do not have to concern themselves with why something is working as long as it works. Currently, clamshell is working on a getting a beta out of the platform by mid-December so people can start testing it out. Since the team is creating their own circuit board, they have gone through several drafts and are currently only their third version. The first version was a test of a form factor and very small. However, since all the soldering was done by hand, something this small could not be accurately created; so the team moved to a larger version. The third version is still in the testing phase, but it is already a smaller version. When they find the perfect setup, they’ll move to have a robot do the soldering for them, and they can return to a bite-size circuit board. When explaining the circuit board, Chantiles-Wert pointed to 5 circles on the board. “These are headers,” he explained, “but not every sensor breakout board has them in the same configuration, which can cause confusion for the user.” To remedy this, Clamshell is working to standardize this order and instead only have users rearrange some wires, eliminating the need for them to know what each pin stood for.

second version of the custom printed circuit board

While they are still testing out the new custom printed circuit board, the team has many ideas for the future. They are working to create a model that is portable and can be easily attached to the hardware of the user’s choice. The model could work with motion sensors, color sensors, LED lights, and more! In the spirit of making it user the friendly, the team hopes that eventually the setup can move from wires to magnets and simply snap on. Clamshell is working to make a universal controller for immersive media with this question in mind: “What if we could interact with virtual reality in a more human way?”

first model of the board inside the test print