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VR Interfaces: U-Force


Overview of U-Force
For those who believe that the concept of gesture activated computing - wave an arm in the air and the computer responds - is a new one, this peripheral exists to disprove them. At the same time it is on record as one of the worst peripherals in the history of both simulation and gaming.

The U-force was a 3D gesture control interface that was ahead of its time. So far ahead in fact, that the technology didn't work.

It was a Nintendo interface, released in 1989, long before gesture control was even considered mainstream. Heck, long before most places were seriously considering it, full stop. Gesture control wasn't even used in high end dedicated VR installations until four years later. The adverts at the time proudly proclaimed 'Don't Touch', an adage which still haunts it 20 years later, for it's double meaning.
The original advert: Introducing U-Force, the revolutionary controller for your Nintendo Entertainment System. So hot, no one can touch it. Now you can feel the power without touching a thing. It's U-FORCE from Broderbund - the first and only video game controller that, without touching anything, electronically senses your every move, and reacts. There's nothing to hold, nothing to jump on, nothing to wear, U-Force creates a power field that responds to your every command--making you the controller. It's the most amazing accessory in video game history - and it will change the way you play video games forever. It's the challenge of the future. U-Force. Now nothing comes between you and the game.
It opened like a laptop, into a base and screen unit, looking a little like one half of a battleship board. Both the horizontal and vertical sections featured a matte black panel with red lines criss-crossing them. These lines indicated the parallel sensor bars. The idea was the bars would sense changes in air pressure when a hand swung through the space intersected by both horizontal and vertical boards. These cut perpendicular to one another for extra sensor acuity. They needed every advantage they could get, as a full power punch by a full grown adult male across them, barely registered - a desktop fan got more response. This is why the ratings were so abysmal.

In addition to the basic functionality, there was a removable T-bar joystick with trigger grips that sat in a well at the front of the device. When it was locked into position, the gesture control was turned off - which also meant that if any gunk built up in the well, the gesture control was also turned off. The joystick was purely mechanical.

A second peripheral, a power bar, was also available to be fitted to the unit. This ran across it, and was physically punched to more accurately record force. Unsurprisingly, whilst a few U-force units do survive to this day, no power bars have, indicating the ferocity with which frustrated owners pummelled their machines.

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