Ascension Bird™

Engineering Psychology

Accession Number: 2014.ep.12

Instrument Name: Ascension Bird™


The instrument has three components, 2014.ep.12.1,2,3.

2014.ep.12.1: Ascension Bird™

The device consists of a plastic rectangular box. The front and back surfaces are black, while the top, sides and base are beige. The front surface features a switch labelled “FLY” and “STDBY” and a port labelled “XMTR.” The back surface features ports labelled (from left to right), “RECEIVER” “SYNC” “POWER” and “RS-232.” A gray cord extends from the power port and attaches to the external power supply.

2014.ep.12.2: Mid-Range Transmitter

The transmitter consists of a beige, plastic cube. A beige cord extends from the back of the transmitter.

2014.ep.12.3: External power supply

The external power supply consists of a black, plastic rectangular box. The top surface is lined with ridges. The back surface features a label that designates output and input levels. A gray cord extends from the back.

Alternative Name: 3D Tracking Device

Primary Materials: plastic, metal


2014.ep.12.1: Ascension Bird™

Label on front surface: “ASCENSION TECHNOLOGY BIRD. Ser. #0276. DA 25-8. PROPERTY IDENTIFICATION NUMBER”. Barcode on front surface: “06022”. Manufacturer’s labels along the base of the front surface: “FLY” “STDBY” “XMTR”. Manufacturer’s logo and label on front surface: “The Bird™”. Handwritten label attached to the front surface: “Turn off the switch after use!” Owner’s label on front edge of top surface: “BIRD 3/99”. Manufacturer’s labels on back surface: “Ascension Technology Corporation. Colchester, Vt 05446. PRODUCT Bird 6D Input Device. MODEL 6DBRD. SERIAL NO. 0276.” Manufacturer’s labels along the base of the back surface: “RECEIVER” “SYNC” “POWER” “RS-232”. Handwritten label attached on back surface: illegible. Label on back surface: “Protected by U.S. Patents 4, 849, 692, 4, 945, 305 and foreign counterparts.”

2014.ep.12.2: Mid-Range Transmitter

Owner’s label on back edge of top surface: “BIRD 3/99.”

2014.ep.12.3: External power supply

Manufacturer’s label on top surface: “CONVERTER CONCEPTS INC. MADE IN THE U.S.A. INDUSTRIAL PKWY. PARDEVILLE WIX. 53954” Manufacturer’s label on back surface: “OUTPUT” “INPUT” “MODEL XT25-341-00/0” “SERIAL NO DD9130073.”

Dimensions (cm):

Ascension Bird™: Height = 10, Width = 28.5, Length= 24.5 Mid-Range Transmitter: Height = 9.6, Width = 9.6, Length= 9.6 External Power Supply: Height = 5.5, Width = 11, Length= 14.5


At the time of its production, The Bird was one of the very few methods of wirelessly tracking the instantaneous position of a moving object in 3D space. The device operates electromagnetically, with the person (a human subject) holding a tracking device while moving it around.


The Bird is in good condition, with minor signs of wear and tear. There is evidence of previous uses of scotch tape to attach labels to the transmitter. Other physical findings include significant dust build up on all surfaces. The chemical conditions include minor discolouration and yellowing of plastics. The base of the transmitter has several scratches, and the covering of the cord has begun to fray at its point of connection with the transmitter. General removal of dust and cleaning of surfaces is recommended.

Manufacturer: Ascension Technology Corporation

Date of Manufacture: ca. early 1990s


Originally purchased by Professor Paul Milgram of the University of Toronto Engineering Department in the early 1990’s. Acquired from the laboratory of Professor Milgram in October 2012.

Additional Information and References:

Information pertaining to the instrument’s provenance and use at University of Toronto was acquired from Professor Milgram in the Industrial Engineering Department. Additional information was compiled from

Donated to UTSIC: Yes

Historical Notes:

Between 1991 and 1995, The Bird was critical to Dr. Shumin Zhai’s PhD research. Dr. Zhai’s thesis, “Human Performance in Six Degree of Freedom Input Control,” investigated “human performance relating to various dimensions of 6 degree of freedom interfaces, including device resistance, transfer functions, muscles groups and joints, and input display formats. These dimensions were analysed respectively in terms of human proprioception and control feel, mental processing in forming control actions, motor and sensory cortex representation, and the nature of various visual depth cues” (‎).

The excerpt below from Dr. Zhai’s thesis demonstrates how the Ascension Bird tracker was used in his experiments:

The physical interface for the isotonic position control condition in Experiment 1 was the MITS glove, designed and built by the author. An Ascension Bird™ magnetic tracker was attached to the centre of the palm of the glove, the rotational centre of the hand. Also mounted on the palm of the glove was a clutch with a T-bar. The clutch could easily be pressed down by closing the fingers (24).

The Bird was also used in the PhD research conducted by Dr. Maurice Masliah between 1996 and 2000. Dr. Masliah’s thesis, “Measuring the Allocation of Control in 6 Degree of Freedom Human-Computer interaction Tasks,” used the MITS glove (please see attached image) designed by Dr. Zhai, as mentioned above. Dr. Masliah also used the “FingerbaIl”, another device designed by Dr. Zhai, which consisted of an Ascension Bird tracker in a ball and the “EGG, an elastic device designed by Dr. Zhai which consisted of an Ascension Bird tracker mounted within an elastic fiame (

Along with the publications produced by both Dr. Zhai and Dr. Masliah, the University of Toronto also has a patent granted that involves an invention that makes use of the Bird. Further information regarding the specifics of this invention has not yet been found.