Oculus and Valve Yet to Reveal Timeline to Open Tracking for Third Parties
Oculus and Valve have both gone on record to say that they’d be opening up their respective tracking systems for third-parties to make use of, but, one year on, neither company is ready to talk specifics.
So called ‘6DOF’ (degrees of freedom) tracking is very important for virtual reality. VR systems need to know the exact location of your head and precisely how it’s moving through space in order to render a virtual world which moves around you as you would expect to see in real life. 6DOF tracking is also crucial for adding motion input to enable users effortlessly interact with the virtual world.
Two leading systems have emerged between the top platforms. Oculus’ ‘Constellation’ tracking makes use of an array of IR-LEDs tracked by an external camera while Valve/HTC’s ‘Lighthouse’ system utilizes an array of photodiodes to track lasers emitted from two base stations.
Extending those tracking systems beyond the head and hands however has a wide range of uses; tracked third-party peripherals could establish a world of new opportunities for VR interactivity. One major use-case is simply making the virtual item—be it a bat, golf club, sword, etc.—a mirror image of the real object that the player is holding. This improves immersion because the object is not only shaped and held just as it would be in real life, but the user benefits from all the expected forces like weight, leverage, and momentum from the object’s mass.
Oculus and HTC’s promises to open up tracking
About a year ago, back at E3 2015, the founder of Oculus, Palmer Luckey, said that the company had plans to open up an API for third parties to tap into the Constellation tracking system. He was clearly enthusiastic about the ecosystem of peripherals that such a move would enable.
“[Oculus Touch is] never going to be better than truly optimized VR input for every game. For example, racing games: it’s always going to be a steering wheel. For a sword fighting game, you’re going to have some type of sword controller,” Luckey said. “…I think you’re going to see people making peripherals that are specifically made for particular types of games, like whether they’re steering wheels, flight sticks, or swords, or gun controllers in VR.”
Valve was also bullish about their Lighthouse tracking system, over a year ago, after the company had just revealed the HTC Vive, Valve head Gabe Newell said that they wanted to give the tracking tech away for all to use.
“So we’re gonna just give [Lighthouse tech] away. What we want is for that to be like USB. It’s not some special secret sauce,” Newell said. “It’s like everybody in the PC community will benefit if there’s this useful technology out there. So if you want to build it into your mice, or build it into your monitors, or your TVs, anybody can do it.”
Peripherals from other makers
StrikerVR is creating a VR gun peripheral which includes a powerful force feedback module so that it doesn’t only feel like the player is holding a real gun, but it feels like the gun is actually firing when the trigger is pulled.
Third-party controllers that possess features that goes beyond the first-party offering would also be viable with access to an established tracking system. For instance, Tactical Haptics is in the process of creating a VR controller with ‘Reactive Grip’, a unique haptic solution which can create feedback not possible with rumble alone.