Old 05-09-2008, 09:10 AM Offline   #1 (permalink)

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Default Sex Drive: Motion-Capture Suits Will Spice Up Virtual Sex

No matter how beautiful the sex animations are in your favorite virtual playground, they can't compete with the movement of your own body.
How soon will we be slipping gracefully into motion-capture suits or using 3-D cameras to capture those uniquely natural moves and engage our entire bodies in online sexual adventures, rather than limping along with keyboard and mouse? Sooner than you might think.
Kevin Alderman, who's already infamous for the sex animations his company Strokerz Toyz creates for Second Life, is developing a wireless, consumer-level motion-capture suit that's expected to hit shelves in 2009.
"Right now only a dozen or so sites on the web offer downloadable mocap files," Alderman says. "You have to wait until some studio becomes benevolent enough to make the animations you want, or you have to engage them for your specific needs."
Personal motion-capture suits will enable residents to contribute sex animations to the world of their choice -- and to develop scenarios tailored to their own deepest desires, especially if they team up with others who also have the suits. It's the bridge between today's expensive studio mocap and the real-time avatar control of tomorrow.
Meanwhile, technologists Mitch Kapor and Philippe Bossut have developed a less exotic, yet more familiar, prototype for hands-free interaction in virtual worlds: They're using a 3-D camera to track body movements, which are in turn translated and used to control avatars in Second Life.
These new technologies won't instantly set off the "ZOMG it's sex!" media alarms the way Bluetooth-to-sex-toy interfaces do. These developers can position themselves as facilitators of dancing and flying and walking around, creators of new input devices rather than instigators of a whole new level of cybersex.
But you can be sure we'll adapt whatever they come up with to our own erotic purposes. I would gladly put up with a few technical glitches for the chance to play with home mocap systems and virtual worlds.
Traditionally, home motion-capture animation has been financially out of reach for most geeks, costing about a half-million dollars for a studio setup -- a big room, multiple cameras to capture all the angles, the spandex suit with the white pingpong balls, the software that calculates the movement of those points through space and maps it to a digital figure.
However, Rick Hall, production director at the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, sees "a trend to move away from big external optical systems" like the mocap setups used for movies and game development. Hall suggests that MMORGs will most likely provide the first venues for real-time mocap.
"Picture the more sedate scenes like in a bar, or dance clubs," he says. "That could be an interesting application, putting on a little virtual-reality mocap suit and dancing."
Ask hard-core game developers about the limitations of using real-time motion capture devices to control your avatar and they'll remind you that your living room is a finite space. Even if you could strap on the motion sensors and use your body to maneuver your digital alter ego, you can't do much flying, climbing or fighting without hitting a wall.
"You can swing a baseball bat or kick a football, but you can't go dive, can't run, can't explore a cave," Hall says. "We're always going to have this problem. Duplicating the Holodeck on the Enterprise sounds nice, but when they turn the screen off, it's just a big room.... It's not limited by (mocap) technology but by the walls in your house."
With virtual sex, that's not such a problem. Sometimes what you want to do in a virtual world takes up no more physical space than a sleeping bag. And sometimes you actually need a wall. Where else would you secure the tie-downs?
"I'm not sure I want to go there," Hall says. (That's OK. Everybody has a day job.)
Strokerz Toyz's Alderman wants to go all the way there. While the world waits for his $10,000 home mocap suit, he's launching a mocap studio, StroCap, that focuses on mature content.
"We are soliciting (Second Life) residents to tell us what they want to see in adult motion capture," Alderman says. "More realistic caresses? More erotic dances? More action?"
With StroCap's offerings and the inevitable use of home mocap suits and 3-D cams to control avatars, people who want to express themselves sexually in a virtual world -- but can't draw or animate -- will still be able to translate their own desires and preferences into in-world animations.
Gradually, our avatars will begin to mirror the way our bodies actually move, which could have an interesting effect on the gender play virtual worlds are so keen on. If we get it right, we'll become at least 50 percent more attractive to other residents, according to a collaborative study conducted last year at Texas A&M University and New York University.
People are more than ready to replace keyboards and controllers with more holistic interfaces. Look at the demand for Wii Fit, even though nothing prevents us from popping in an exercise video or walking the dog.
As for the lag that can still be a problem in virtual worlds, well, you wouldn't have expected people to use webcams night after night over their 14,400-baud modems, and yet we did, somehow.
My first real-time mocap action will be to kiss whoever develops the system I use.
See you in a fortnight,
Regina Lynn
- - -
Regina Lynn invites you to move her at reginalynn.com.


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