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Satoru Iwata - Tech Limitations Held Wii Vitality Sensor Back, But Launch is Still Possible

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

It has a pulse

Ah, the Vitality Sensor. Remember that? It was shown off at E3 2009, leading to the raising of many eyebrows as Nintendo President Satoru Iwata pitched its ability to track the pulse and other readings, and explained how it could be suitable for games of relaxation. It's gone down as one of Nintendo's quirkiest product announcements, and has also become notable for its disappearance and absence since.

Satoru Iwata was asked about the sensor in a recent investor's Q & A, which has now been officially translated, and he explained that the device's absence from the market is the result of technical issues. Testing showed that the sensor was only reliable for nine out of ten participants, but it could yet be revived if technology enhancements improve its performance.

The Wii Vitality Sensor was under development as an accessory for Wii. We thought it would be interesting to understand how the human autonomic nerve functions while using the Wii Vitality Sensor, and we did develop trial software and showed the media some of its features. We pushed forward its development on the academic assumption that by observing the wave patterns of the human pulse, we could quantify how tense or relaxed a person is, or to be more specific, how much the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves work as functions of the autonomic nerve. However, after a large-scale test of a prototype inside the company, we found out that for some people the sensor did not work as expected. We wondered if we should commercialize a product which works as expected for 90 people out of 100, but not so for the other 10 people. Though I am sorry that we did not give any specific updates after this product’s initial announcement, I would say that knowing that a product has a problem we should not launch it for the sole reason that we have already announced it.

The Wii Vitality Sensor is an interesting device, and we did various experiments to see what is possible when it was combined with a video game. But, as a result, we have not been able to launch it as a commercial product because we could not get it to work as we expected and it was of narrower application than we had originally thought. We would like to launch it into the market if technology advancements enable 999 of 1,000 people to use it without any problems, not only 90 out of 100 people. I actually think that it must be 1,000 of 1,000 people, but (since we use the living body signal with individual differences) it is a little bit of a stretch to make it applicable to every single person.

In any case, its launch has been pending because we decided that the Wii Vitality Sensor’s current result is insufficient as a commercial product.

As that explanation makes clear, its absence isn't due to Nintendo backing away from the concept, but a practical result of below-standard success rates. This kind of thing has existed before, too, with the Japan-only N64 Bio Sensor that came bundled with Tetris 64 — thanks Martin! — which was a similar looking gizmo that measured your heart rate by clipping onto your ear; ouch! Apparently the reliability of that wasn't so hot either.

Keep your hopes up, the Vitality Sensor may take our pulse and pinch our fingers yet.


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User Comments (27)



thesilverbrick said:

I really wish NIntendo would stop talking about this. Obviously this is a case of a peripheral showcased before there was any good applications for it. Do yourself a favor and don't bring it up again until you have a game that utilizes it well.



ThomasBW84 said:

In the voice of The Joker - "Why so serious"?

It's the Vitality Sensor, let's just laugh merrily and say "oh Nintendo, you little scamp".



Haxonberik said:

@Dr_42o Im sure someone will make a Google Glass app for that when it finally releases, so welcome to the future my friend!



Skotski said:

@thesilverbrick Er... They never said they didn't have any applications that it would work well with. They said it didn't work on some applicants that used it. 9 out of 10 people could use it well. The other 1/10, didn't work so well.

I'd assume they already had game demos ready for this product, and possibly even teams ready to jump into make the full versions of said demos - but without it working for 1/10th of the users, they stalled.



ToastyYogurt said:

@thesilverbrick: Did you even read the article? It wasn't held back because of the lack of software, it was held back because it didn't work for some people. (Dang, ninja'd by Skotski! )
And I think it was good why he explained it's absence from the market. If a company announces things but never brings them to fruition and the company never speaks of it again, consumers lose trust.



thesilverbrick said:

I think you're missing my point. They showed the device at E3 without any demos. They may very well have been working on games for it, but they showed nothing, making the reveal kind of a joke. It would be like showing the Wii Balance Board without a demo or even screenshots of a game that used it.



retro_player_22 said:

They always had to remind us of this thing, c'mon even if it's being marketed not many games will support it anyways. Better to just forget about it and move on.



quino711 said:

The Vital sensor has potential, but it should be a wrist accessory so you could still use the controller to play...

Imagine a survival game that knows your heart rate and adapts to the things you react the most or the least.

Imagine a trauma center game that defines the hand pulse of your character based on the vital sensor.

those are some quick examples.. I want to know what developers could do = )



SmaMan said:

By this logic, the 3DS shouldn't have been released either. It seems about 9 out of 10, maybe less, can make use of the 3D stereoscopic screen. I know some people who just can't see the effect, and there are plenty of kids under 7 that supposedly shouldn't look at the 3D in the first place.

All I'm saying is, 9 out of 10 is not too bad!



LittleIrves said:

Methinks this is not the most interesting part of that investor Q+A, just the part reported by other sites. Read the answer to the first question and try not to be titillated with excitement for the unknown...



Sceptic said:

It's not that they're backing away, it's just that even they think it's crap.

Oh. Ok.

Results, Nintendo. Results. Talk is cheap. We all know you want us to believe you have a million incredible games up your sleeve that you're just putting the final polish on before you release, but we all SEE that that is just. Not. True.



Epicnessofme99 said:

Now your Wii U can be your ambulance along with a Wii U vitality sensor! When you pass out from playing amazing games you'll be cured lol.



thesilverbrick said:

Sorry, you're right. I missed the bit about him being asked. But the problem goes back to the fact that they showed the thing far too early. They had no reason to show the Vitality Sensor when they did and now it haunts them in every developer interview. If they just kept it under wraps they would have realized it was a failed concept and wouldn't have to have it brought up time and time again.



19Robb92 said:

Just kill it off already. Looking at the picture of it I can practically hear it whispering: "Kill... Me...".



ajcismo said:

I've been convinced for a while that this thing was the result of a dare or bet by R&D to see how far they could take it without bringing it to market.



element187 said:

This was at the time the Wii was printing money and they were completely out of ideas of what to do next..... Apparently they were still thinking about Wii Fit when they came up with this.

But why is an investor asking about it? They should be glad its gone.



Windy said:

I would like to go back to a regular Freakin controller. Please Pretty, please with a great big cherry on top?



BulbasaurusRex said:

@SmaMan While the 3D effect is the main selling point, it's only a non-essential part of the total product. The Vitality Sensor would've been a complete rip-off to 10% of the buyers with no way to know beforehand if you are one of those unlucky customers.

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