A Peek Beneath the Salto SuitOctober 13, 2015 by Jennifer A. Diffley
We spoke with the people behind the Salto suit to see how this simple invention can change the future of motion capture.
If you're not familiar with the Salto Suit, you should be: the project is set to make animation much easier and much more affordable: it's essentially an entire motion capture studio in one suit. It's an ambitious project, so we spoke with CEO and founder, Jakob Balslev, for more information behind his invention:
What’s your background? When did you form your company?
The idea behind Rokoko sprung from an art project at The National Film School of Denmark in 2012, where we wanted to make live animation theater and give children the chance to speak to the animated characters in a film. We invented the concept Animotion which we produced with an optical motion capture system.
At our show we discovered that a boy with autism developed a unique connection to our living animated characters. We started exploring the potential in that experience and found out that children with autism in general connect in a way to animated characters that they are not able to do in human contact. That inspired us to develop a treatment tool where a therapist in a motion capture suit can treat children with autism through live animation.
All we needed was the technology to make this happen. We gathered a team of brilliant and innovative people from different industries and invented the sensor based motion capture suit Salto.
Today we are 20 employees and have three departments.
How did you come up with the idea for the Salto suit?
We simply needed a way to make our Animotion and autism treatment project happen. We needed an intuitive, mobile and affordable mocap solution. Our original tech wizard Anders got the idea to use sensors to avoid the optical restrictions that caused the high price and the inflexibility. From there on we developed with rapid prototyping and an extensive R&D process.
Where do you see the virtual reality market headed?
There’s no doubt that the VR market is headed in direction of the "regular" consumers. The challenge will be to build solutions that are intuitive enough for the consumer to realize that VR actually is interesting and accessible for them too. The design is of course important. It has to look compelling and not too “nerdy.” And it has to be easy to use. For us the Salto suit offers a lot of that. It’s extremely intuitive to work with – anyone can use it. Soon we will launch a design that you can wear on top of your existing clothes, so that you can put it on and off in no time.
But the experience has to be intuitive too – and what is more intuitive than having your entire body with you in the virtual space. You can interact in the same way as you interact with the natural world.
The Salto suit fits over regular clothes and takes about a minute to put on.
Another major direction for the VR market is what has been called Social VR. Now we’ve seen that VR allows you to fly in space, fall off buildings and shoot monsters. To catch a broader audience, we as content producers have to show that VR can do way more than that: make a difference. You see examples of VR content that allows you to walk around in a Syrian refugee camp. Everyone talks about it, but how does it actually feel/look – VR can show you that like nothing else. You can experience unique situations that no other medium allows you to – and thereby emotions that you haven’t experienced in “entertainment” before. Our autism treatment project may have potential in Social VR in time. And we have a number of other Social VR projects in development.
I think that this is definitely one of the most interesting and important areas for the future of VR.
What was the biggest obstacle you encountered during development?
We had to deal with several obstacles due to the nature of our product which is divided into three segments: software, hardware and textile. Each of these had to be tackled with a different approach and mind-set. The hardware had to play smoothly with the software and fit perfectly with the textile. The hardware was definitely the man in the middle, which not only had a huge impact on the overall system performance, but also the looks of the suit.
We’re always especially interested in hardware. How did you decide which sensors to utilize?
We were in need of a sensor which was able to translate physical movements from each limb on the body into a digital representation on a computer or smart-device. After extensive research, it was very clear that the sensor we needed was an Inertial measurement unit (IMU) containing a gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer, so we decided to test all the top-shelf IMU's thoroughly in order to find the right brand and model.
One of the sensors embedded into the suit.
Do you plan on making the suit less expensive in the future and, if yes, how do you plan on doing that?
As soon as we scale our production up, the suit will become cheaper. We mean it when we say that we are building a consumer product. It has to be affordable to the consumers. In the nearby future we will introduce the world to a suit that will be at a price point where the regular consumer can access it as accessories to their gaming consoles and VR hmd’s.