The Merge Cube puzzle © Merge VR
Merge Cube is a puzzle with a difference, blending augmented reality, virtual reality and real life to create a toy like we've never seen before. The result is a hologram in your hands, and when your child tires of playing with a dinosour, it'll be easy to change the hologram into a fire engine, a monster, a car or virtually anything else. The developers claim that it could change the way we physically interact with digital content.
We've been speaking to Franklin Lyons, the founder and CEO of Merge VR, to find out more. At first glance, the Merge Cube looks like many other puzzles out there – it's small and unassuming. It's only when paired with a Merge VR headset that it jumps to life.
"Fundamentally, when you hold the cube in your hand, it can become any object you can imagine," explains Lyons. "In that sense, the opportunities are limitless. That's why the potential is so great, because it's a new type of tool. It will be used for entertainment and games, but it will also be used for learning, sharing and communicating. Anything is made possible when we can now hold a digital object in our hand. I think that's profound, and I don't want to put limits on what it will be used for."
That means that the scope of Merge stretches beyond a mere puzzle or toy. Lyons adds, "At Merge, what makes us most excited is that we make products that are accessible, fun and engaging for everyone; we think of our products as toys from the future, and as tools we use for growing as individuals and as a society. This is where the Merge Cube has the most potential, because we're removing the barriers to have access to these tools and delivering them in a fun and accessible way so that everyone can benefit."
© Merge VR
"The Merge Cube enables an entirely new way to physically interact with digital content, and we want interested developers to have access to this tech and create new kinds of experiences. We believe in open platforms because it's this approach that allows us to unlock the greatest potential. The time is now for developers to get in early, and create the first apps and experiences to show the world how amazing this new technology is."
Lyons points out that over 300 developers have already signed up for the Merge Cube dev kits, with a lot of excitement generated despite the cube's relatively low-key announcement.
"All kinds of developers and studios are interested in building for our holographic cube; single indie devs to some of the biggest entertainment studios in the world have signed up. There's been interest from university students and tech professors, medical researchers, museums, gaming studios, and Hollywood. We're seeing hardware hackers starting to get involved, and at a recent game jam at SXSW, hackers and musicians came together and made some pretty amazing experiences. This is starting to happen all over the place."
Learning lessons from Moonshot
Merge Cube isn't the first bit of VR-compatible hardware that we've seen from Merge, with the company also developing a VR controller in the form of Moonshot. Lyons explains that the company learned a lot from Moonshot.
"When we first developed Moonshot, there were no controllers for VR. It was a big question mark in the whole industry. Moonshot was the first motion controller for mobile VR, and we got it into developers' hands early. If there's one thing I could change about Moonshot, it's that we would have been more confident in knowing we were right from the start, and invested a lot more to push it to market faster. The next step for us and the industry, is to take the Moonshot controller technology universal – essentially enabling the ubiquitous 'mouse' of VR.
"This is what makes us fundamentally different from Google or Samsung. Merge is not in the business of selling phones – we want our technology to work with as many devices as possible, not locked to just very specific phones. Taking the lesson learned from the Moonshot now with the Merge Cube, we've made the choice to invest early and not let anything slow us down. We now have distribution and funding in place, so there's nothing stopping us from making it happen in a big way."
© Merge VR
If the Merge Cube does make it big, Lyons is convinced it can change the world we live in. He concludes, "This is the dawn of a new era where we're finally merging the physical and digital. From this point on, we'll look back and say 'OK, that was the beginning'. Soon this technology will evolve and become more and more integrated into our daily lives, in increasingly wonderful new ways. It's truly my desire that Merge is able to bring more magical products like this to market, creating new ways to harness technology for generations to come."
Interested? Merge Cube will hit the shops in summer 2017 with Lyons pointing out that it'll cost around £15 (€17.20), which doesn’t seem like a lot to us for a completely new way of interacting with digital objects.