Flypad: Here, Take My iPhone And Drive

By March 8, 2012

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Orthogonal Labs’ Flypad is based on an interesting idea: Using the accelerometer and touchscreen built into a smart phone to control other devices.

And though gaming seems like a natural entry point for any-screen computing, gamepad-style touchscreen controls are notoriously poor — to the degree that at least one manufacturer is selling a Gameboy-style case. Playing to the platform’s strengths, Orthogonal has chosen to starkly limit the scope of the project to steering wheel simulation, enabled for a select group of racing games including Burnout, Need for Speed: The Run and Ignite. Rotate the phone, and the on-screen car turns; slide the shifter on the phone’s touchscreen, and it changes gears.

“We’ve focused on racing games because Flypad creates a differentiated, steering wheel-esque, more immersive experience than the keyboard (which most PC racing gamers use),” Orthogonal founder Ayo Omojola told in an email message. “Racing games are just the start, and our APIs help developers create awesome games with everything from tilt control, Wii style control, in-app payments, touch, and gestures.”

Orthogonal’s other, closely-related project is WanderPlayer, a germinal software-based game console that plays specialized smart phone games on a PC or Apple display over a wireless network. WanderPlayer is clearly in an experimental phase; there’s no list of available titles, and an abortive FAQ page lists Omojola’s personal phone number for frustrated users.

But there are hints that the company is aiming for something more revolutionary.

“For us, we’re building the next game console; made of software, available anywhere, with tons of games you can play on any screen – whether your PC, iPad, or TV,” Omojola wrote. “Going forward, you’ll see smartphones & tablets as input and companion devices for applications as varied as entertainment (music, videos, games, toys) to utility (non entertainment home electronics, sensors etc).”

There is clearly crossover ambition between the two projects, and a hearty vision for the ways increasingly ubiquitous mobile technology can be used to control other devices. Omojola didn’t mention the terrifying possibility of an app that steers an actual car, but it’s interesting to speculate how long (or will there be self-driving cars before such a thing is possible?) it could be before such a threat needs to be legislated against.