FREEDEE CONTROLLER


IN A NUTSHELL
  • Personal project
  • App turns smartphone in a magic 3D controller
  • Unique and intuitive controlling expeience


STORY


Every Friday, my colleague Elio and I meet in our studio to experiment with sensors and all kinds of gadgets. Somehow we played with the sensors of the smartphone, hoping to make an intuitive musical instrument. Unfortunately, nothing came of it because smartphones are terrible at recognizing hand gestures. But they are very precise when it comes to spatial orientation.

When we passed the sensor data to a 3Ds Max and thus coupled the 3D object with the cell phone, it rotated exactly as the smartphone in hand. It felt magical, as if the virtual model was in our own hands. In all 3D controllers up to that point, one would rotate the virtual camera to navigate. That doesn't feel as immediate and intuitive as our discovery.


ITERATIONS


Our 3D artist friends were also enthusiastic about our prototype, but they missed the zoom function for daily use. While implementing the new feature, it was necessary not to distract the user from his actual focus – the monitor screen. That's why we tied the zoom function to Swype gestures in the app; if you swipe your finger down on the screen - i.e., towards you - the object comes closer, and if you swipe up, the object moves away.




VISUAL DESIGN


The other challenge was of an anatomical nature: the human wrist only has limited freedom of movement to the sides (abduction and addition) of 60°, so it isn't easy to turn the virtual object around holding his smartphone in hand.


To quickly rotate the object, we implemented the horizontal swipe gesture. Having both swyping gestures feel very natural and consistent.




USER INTERFACE


Now we needed a new visual metaphor on the screen that could represent both the zoom and the rotation. The best thing would be to display the model or the coordinate grid from the 3D software. But this was not technically possible because the app does not receive any information from 3Ds Max. After a long search, I happened to come across a comic strip, "Lost in Line" by Léopold Lambert, where the protagonist wanders through the abstract line structure.



The image was an inspiration to the user interface. On the phone screen, we now have a landscape of lines. Using the horizontal and vertical swipe gestures, you "move" forward, backward, or turn to the sides.

On the one hand, it perfectly visualized the user inputs. On the other, it was a visually delightful experience.




In 2016, FreeDee not only won a Red Dot Award but was also included in the category "Best of the Best". The joury stated: “a path-breaking solution” .