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

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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