Friday, January 30, 2009

FreeTrack - Freeware Head Tracking!!!

Do you have a webcam? Do you have very basic do-it-yourself skill/attitude? Well, add few euros and you may have everything you need to make a do-it-yourself-thanks-to-a-great-freeware-app head tracking device. The GNU freeware I'm talking about is called "FreeTrack", and the project website is this:

For those who don't know, "head tracking", in software, means the ability for the software to know the position/orientation of the user's head and use this information to receive input from the user. Most common usage in simulation games is: you move your head (slightly) and the point of view, in the cockpit, moves accordingly (with some movement amplification - if you think about it, it is necessary to amplify the movement).

There are commercial products that do this. TrackIR from Natural Point is the market leader for games, but it is not really cheap - as it is well above the 100 Euros.

If you want try the do-it-yourself-way, you'll need:

- The FreeTrack sofware from the site above
- A webcam
- Some LEDs and proper resistor(s) and batteries.
- A baseball cap and something to hold the led and attach them to the cap.

How it works: basically, you put three LEDs on a baseball cap in a given (triangular) geometry. You wear the cap and switch the leds on then lauch Freetrack. Freetrack takes the webcam image, processes it and isolates the position of the LEDs -from which it calculates the position and orientation of your head which is then, at your choice, translated into Mouse/joystick/trackIR emulation or SimConnect (FSX) controls.

Before trying this out I was VERY skeptical about its functionality and usability. Now I am a believer. I will post my construction of the device, which was done with a single "LEDstrip" (with regular visible red light LEDs) and a unmodified Microsoft VX-3000 webcam. Try it. It may change your way of experiencing simulations (and, if you do not like it, it is still fun trying it and it is very cheap).

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