Horseshoes, Powergloves, and Other Weird Real-Life Controller Patents

From wearable motion controls to breakable controllers, let's look at some of gaming's weirdest controller patents from the past few years. 

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Speculation is fun, isn’t it? And we here in the gaming community are very, very good at speculating. From new console specs to whatever-the-heck franchise X publisher will choose to revitalize next, everywhere from forum posts to comment sections will be full of discussions about people’s take on the Next Big Thing.

And occasionally, companies like Sony and Nintendo drop us morsels of rumor food to feast on while we wait for major events and official announcements. It could be a cheeky leaked photo posted by someone’s uncle at Nintendo, a conversation overheard at a bar, or – one of my personal favorites – patents quietly filed and published.

It’s important to note that patents are just that – patents. Companies file them all the time in an effort to protect their ideas, and a lot of them will never actually be made, much less produced in mass quantity. But, they do give us an inside look at a manufacturer’s philosopy and can sometimes provide clues as to where gaming tech might be headed. We’re in a strange, transitional time right now between motion controls, virtual reality, and traditional gameplay methods, so it’s no surprise a handful of weird patents have been filed over the past few years. Here are a few of the most interesting from Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft.

Nintendo’s Horseshoe Controller

We touched on this briefly when discussing the new Nintendo announcement and compiling the NX rumors, but it warrants re-visiting purely for the spectacle of it. A horsehoe-shaped, hollow controller made from an aluminium alloy, some have wondered if this is what we can expect to release alongside the upcoming Nintendo console. More likely, however, is the suggested theory that it’s a fitness peripheral tied to something like Wii Fit over being a main control method for a video game. But hey; at least we know it’s a real patent and not an elaborate hoax.

Sony’s Break Apart Move Controller

Sony’s been interested in the idea of a move controller/dualshock hybrid for years now. In fact, they’ve filed patents for one twice; once in 2008, and another in 2011 (which was later published and made public).

The idea behind this one is understandable. At the time, the Wii was a huge success for Nintendo. Motion controls looked like the new frontier, which led PlayStation and Xbox to double down on their ideas for motion-based gaming. The results were the Kinect and the Move, although neither were ever as successful as Nintendo’s Wiimote-controlled motion-based games.

But, they were still going to try, which led Sony to making this beast, a fractured dualshock controller with two clown noses on top that allowed for Move interactivity. When broken apart, they became separate Move controllers held in each hand and tracked using the PlayStation’s camera peripheral. The Move has been a footnote in Sony’s legacy since its inception, but there’s always a chance they’ll bring back something with motion controls once the PS VR is released. Speaking of which…

Sony’s VR Powerglove

A more recent filing of several patents by Sony revealed a wearable glove peripheral to be used alongside a VR headset.

The NeoGAF poster who found and posted this patent filing describes it as a “glove controller for use with a head-mounted display.” The patents filed for this device include a thumb controller, glove interface object, and “systems and methods for providing feedback to a user while interacting with content.”

By all accounts, this appears to be something that would be integrated with the PSVR, much like the Oculus Touch motion controllers are to the Oculus Rift. The idea makes sense; virtual reality is all about taking immersion to the next level and putting the player into the game as closely as they can without actually transporting them to a fantasy world, and there’s still a disconnect between the player and the device when they’re using a controller with buttons to move around. But if you could interact with the game using 1:1 mapping of your hands and fingers? If you could grasp a sword and wave it without the use of analog sticks? Yeah, that seems pretty cool.

Of course, there are economic considerations involved. This tech would not be inexpensive to design and produce, meaning the PSVR would be marked up even further than it is now, making it all the more complicated and niche than before.

We’ll see if this ever actually becomes a thing. In the meantime, there’s plenty to try out using the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive before the PSVR releases later this year.

 Microsoft’s Biometric Technology

Microsoft has always had a fascination with allowing users to interact with their devices in increasingly Star Trek-like ways, and a patent they filed for Biometric tech several years ago serves as more proof. Using this tech built into the controller, Polygon reports the box would be able to gauge the pressure expressed through one’s grip, the size of their fingers, and create a “profile” unique to each individual user that allows them to jump into a game seamlessly without having to deal with signing in. Unfortunately, this one never came to fruition.

The PlayStation Boomerang

This is an especially weird case, because not only was it made, it was shown off on the E3 show floor in 2005. GamesIndustry.biz (via Wikipedia) reports Sony has since clarified it was only a concept design prototype, although common belief held by the public suggested that the controller was intended to ship alongside the PlayStation 3. The design was later abandoned after poor public reception, but lives on today in infamy.

Microsoft’s Wearable Motion Controllers

Imagine if the Kinect was not a HAL-like device watching your every move from a separate position and was instead worn at key points on your body. That’s one of the early design philosophies behind Microsoft’s motion control research and development, which eventually yielded a patent for an arm band connecting a user with their device. The big difference here, however, was Microsoft’s intentions of using it for other devices alongside a gaming console. Using motion tracking, the device would also give you control over your smartphone and notebook by registering gestures picked up by the device worn as an arm band, watch, or possibly even fashion wear.

According to an early report by Engadget, this tech was likely connected to motion-sensing research conducted before the Wii popularized the idea. It hasn’t materialized into anything substantial, but there’s no telling what they’ll do with the HoloLens. In the meantime, you can see it in action -- alongside the creators explaining their vision for it -- in the video below.

Nintendo’s…Whatever This Is

Making odd peripherals is kind of Nintendo’s MO, but this patent is especially strange due to its vague nature. It’s an “Information processing system, information processing program, information processing method and imaging device,” one that incorporates “object detection” using cameras and mirrors. Its intention I not exactly clear, although some suggested and speculated uses include a projector, controller, and “more.”

Built into the device is an infrared transceiver, NFC area, and a power button/LED. Some of the included visuals in the lengthy NeoGAF post where this first showed up suggest Amiibo integration (which makes perfect sense, given the NFC tech) and possible image projection, although much of the patent remains obtuse. Considering the success of Amiibo figures, maybe this (or some permutation thereof) is something we’ll eventually see with the NX? Who knows.  

Contributing Editor

From The Chatty