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Still no biometrics in Steam controller, but could an earlobe-sensing VR headset be on the horizon?


Video game development is rapid and the gaming experience has become so immersive, it’s hard to imagine the graphics and games that seemed so impressive twenty years ago.

Valve, along with many other platform developers is trying to include biometrics and biofeedback into the gaming experience, but this has proven to be a pretty challenging task.

There have been amazing innovations in game writing, graphics and customizability, but one aspect of gaming that’s remained pretty static is user input. Sure, the Kinect really disrupted the space, as did Nintendo’s Wii, but even these systems still include a very basic design for input: two-handed controllers.

You know the design – the left hand typically handles direction, the right hand gets the action buttons and there are some extra buttons reachable by both hands.

Valve has been experimenting with the design of its new controller for its Steam platform and even recently hinted that the new device would include biometrics, but as we reported previously, the controller was recently launched without biometrics.

Valve certainly isn’t the only platform company to drop its plans for a biometric controller. There were also previously rumors that Sony would say goodbye to its long-used DualShock in favor of a new controller which would feature fingerprint biometrics, though it appears that the controller will also now be released without a sensor.

According to a recent report in the Verge, during development, the Valve team found that hands were not a good source of biofeedback, as they are always moving during gameplay. That being said, Valve may not have given up on biometric input altogether for the new Steam platform. There are new hints at a virtual reality headset, which could measure body reaction through a user’s earlobe, instead of their hands.

As of yet, details are scant, but the concern for hands makes some sense. In order for gameplay to adapt to user biometrics, it would have to be from a constant signal – otherwise, response would be slow. Perhaps Sony ditched its plans for the same reasons.

This also explains why facial recognition has been showing up in many plans for new platforms. As long as the user remains in front of the TV to play games, the system can constantly monitor facial expressions and even user identity.

Microsoft has confirmed that the Xbox One will not only include facial recognition, but will use it to target ads to its users. It’s also been rumored that the new Xbox console can measure heart rate based on a user’s skin color and transparency, though how this will be used by the system has yet to be seen. Yesterday Microsoft announced that the Xbox One will not retain facial data, and will not transmit any identification information from the device.

Sony is planning a similar system for facial recognition using an external Kinect-style camera.

Just last week, OBJ Enterprises, an independent game developer announced its acquisition of development studio Novalon Games as a part of its public push for a “biometric gaming revolution.”

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