Though it looks easy on TV, fighting with a broadsword is an activity knights and other medieval types probably practiced a lot. So how do modern knights get some practice in without cutting their hands off? Microsoft Research is tackling this problem with a new game called SwordFight that enables multi-player dueling with smartphones using hardware localization technology.
As part of their work to enable phones to be able to sense or localize with each other, a team at Microsoft Research Asia have created FAR. It's a system where one smartphone can locate another smartphone and measure its distance via chirps. One phone sends the chirp, and the mic on the second phone picks it up and the phone determines the time it took for the chirp to reach it.
To play SwordFight, two players aim their phones at each other and move aiming for each other's handset. If a player hits within six inches of their opponent's handset, the opponent loses a point. It's all measured via the phone's accelerometer and digital compass, and the addition of the new little chirp allows the phones to know how close they got to each other.
With these features, the gameplay is mimics real sword fighting, though the size of your virtual sword is smaller and magically non-lethal. Probably not a bad idea for us 21st century broadsword fighting newbies.
The idea behind creating SwordFight was to create technology to not only allow phones and other devices to connect to each other, but to do it in a much more active and real-time way.
The team at the Mobile & Sensing Systems Research Group at Microsoft Research Asia acknowledge that distance measuring with sound isn't new, but what their team did was to create faster and more accurate algorithms on top of core processing.
Team member David Chu explained the dramatic differences between traditional measuring and the FAR system in an interview with Wired:
"If you think about the fact that you could only take one measurement per second, you could have an error of 4 meters. We've been able to improve that, so that we can go 12 samples per second and theoretically up to 22 samples per second," Chu said. "On average, based on our testing, we can actually achieve within 2-centimeter accuracy."
That will allow for some pretty interesting, interactive gameplay.
Though the FAR localization technology was inspired by the desire to create better gameplay, the technology is not operating platform specific and Microsoft Research team sees it having wider applications with any device that has a speaker and microphone.
There are still a few tweaks the team is working through. The chirps are very noticeable — they'd have to be to work in any sound saturated environment. While this could be worked into game music, personally I'd accept the stand alone loud chirps as part of gameplay.
There's also the fact shifty players can block their mics or speakers to game the system via inaccurate measurement. We'd like to think we wouldn't be playing with those types though.
Never mind, the Microsoft Research team is on the case working on refinements and on other games that use the technology.
A game called ChaseCat has been developed using the same technology in a running game — with users scoring points as they get within a certain distance of each other.
As you might expect, until SwordFight, ChaseCat and other applications that would use this technology have the kinks worked out, they aren't ready for the public yet.
So while we are forced to rely on our cardboard broadswords and our trusty light sabers for dueling for now, something using the FAR technology is probably not too far off in our future as the technology is ripe for use.