A Bold Vision, A Completely New Product Concept
Black Box VR is developing a fully immersive virtual reality gym experience and hired SGW Designworks as their product design company to develop multiple hardware elements of the system. Internal BlackBox teams had a clear vision for the system and for the market. Their internal teams also had full software development capabilities. They decided to look to an outside product development firm for help with the hardware elements of the project.
Multiple, Parallel Product Development Projects
The project consisted of multiple development efforts, all running in parallel. The primary load resistance system that is controlled by the VR system was the most complex hardware element. The system was developed by SGW Designworks, but the design includes significant intellectual property, and cannot be shared publicly. A smaller ancillary device also presented interesting challenges to the product design team at SGW Designworks. The Smart Hands device is a wearable controller, tracked in VR (HTC Vive system, Steam VR), and allows the system to ‘know’ where the user’s arms are located in space. This also allows the user to see the location of their own hands in virtual space, without the need to grasp a controller in the hands. The project involved a full redesign of existing HTC Vive controller PCBA’s, full mechanical design, and industrial design, multiple prototype iterations, and iterative development of sensor placement and orientation to achieve reliable tracking in VR. Design iteration focused on the placement of IR sensors to achieve exceptional tracking in VR, as well as form factor optimization and wearability.
This project started with a redesign and reconfiguration of the existing HTC Vive controller circuitry. While the SGW Designworks embedded systems group was working on that, two mechanical engineers were starting to devise possible enclosure configurations, and collaborating on aesthetics with the client. Next, the electronics and shape work were integrated into the preliminary design, which served as the basis for initial physical prototypes. Three engineers focused on design iteration and rapid prototype cycles, leading to a design suitable for external use. Later stages will focus on cost optimization and integration of design changes based on external testing.
Success at CES 2018
Black Box VR made their public debut with they complete system at CES 2018, using prototypes built by SGW Designworks. Right away, the virtual gym got the attention of industry professionals and the press. Over 1,000 people used the system at CES, without a breakdown. Black Box VR won a covetted CES Innovation Award, and was awarded “Best Startup of CES 2018” from engadget.com. By engaging SGW Designworks, BlackBox VR was able to make rapid development progress, without the risk of hiring a full internal engineering staff. SGW Designworks is able to grow and shrink the development team as needed based on project needs.