Merge Blaster is the best AR toy I've ever tried

The Merge 6DoF Blaster skips the goggles and goes for a gun.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
2 min read

Weird plastic phone blaster toy: and, believe it or not, it's good.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Maybe the next wave of AR toys will avoid your face entirely.

Merge's 6DoF Blaster looks like a Laser Tag gun and uses a phone. And that's basically what it is: Laser Tag, for AR.

And it might be one of my favorite things at CES. Seriously.

Watch this: Merge's toy AR gun turns the iPhone X into Laser Tag

The idea of an AR phone toy shouldn't be surprising, since Apple's ARKit and Google's ARCore made novelty augmented reality apps a hot thing for phones last year. Merge already makes a low-cost pair of VR goggles for phones, but this blaster gun adds six degree of freedom (6DoF) tracking that phone-connected headsets have a hard time with anyway, meaning you can walk around with it, duck and aim quickly. Merge calls this VR without a headset. It's not, though: It's AR, with a clever toy accessory. 

Toy guns with AR have been here before: from last year's Skyrocket Recoil, to Nerf's own AR Lazer Tag years ago. Google's Tango AR experiments played with tablet-mounted AR gun arcades, too.

Sarah Tew/CNET

But my demo with Merge's Blaster, using an iPhone X and an ARKit app, was pretty amazing. I ducked and dove through obstacles, zoomed in and shot snipers, and the triggers and vibration feedback were arcade-sharp. The Blaster will work with ARKit and ARCore, according to Merge, and the goal is to open the hardware design up to others, and allow plenty of compatible games and apps. That was Merge's plan for the Holo Cube, a foam AR toy released last year that ended up having a surprising number of compatible games and experiences. But the Blaster surprised me. It's good! And it worked better than most AR demos I've tried at CES.

Merge is targeting an affordable price for the Blaster. Prediction: this is going to be better than you think.

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