Sunday, April 29, 2007

Wii Hacking or Why the Video Game Industry is Important

The WSJ has an article about the Wii-mote, the remote control for Nintendo's Wii video game console. Apparently hackers are reprogramming the remote for other functions:

A deejay in the Netherlands uses his to mix techno music at dance parties. A medical student in Italy has reprogrammed his to help analyze the results of CT scans. And a Los Angeles software engineer has found a way to get his to help vacuum the floor. The high-tech device in each case: the remote control from a $250 videogame console.

With a Wii console, the Wii-mote is used to act out the video games. For instance, with a tennis game, you swing the remote to swing the racket on the video screen. The Wii-mote has an accelerometer that detects the speed and direction of motion. This is translated into action on the screen. I could make a comment sure to show my age about how lazy teenagers are today (Um, why don't they just go play tennis?), but I think the more important point is that because of a video game controller, innovation is happening. And not just innovative new ways dj:

Some companies see possible business applications with the Wii-mote. Rick Bullotta, vice-president of SAP Research, an arm of the German software giant SAP AG, is looking at ways to integrate the Wii-mote into their clients' manufacturing operations. He envisions factory and warehouse employees walking through facilities pointing and waving Wii-motes to monitor and control machines. "It's the first time we've used a videogame controller for R&D," he says.

Innovation begets innovation. It will be interesting to see how Nintendo reacts to this. It seems that so far, they've only issued some boilerplate statement saying the Wii-mote was created solely for use with the Wii console. Well, yeah, but somebody forgot to tell the hackers. Will Nintendo be so sanguine when someone reprograms the Wii-mote for a higher, more profitable use? I hope so. I don't know if there would be any patent issues at stake, but if there are, Nintindo should waive any rights to them. The new innovative uses of the Wii-mote is already benefiting Nintendo (you can buy the remote seperately from the console) and any new uses will likely benefit them more.

I'm sure many people don't think of the video game industry as anything important, but if part of a video game system can help analyze a CT scan, maybe you should reconsider that position.

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