There’s still a long way to go until we reach any sort of plateau in VR headset development, it’s true. However. I feel comfortable in saying that current-generation HMDs have reached the “good enough” phase of the technology. From here on it’s about providing better and better specs, not about completely reinventing HMDs. At least not for a while yet.
In the motion controller and haptics realm, things aren’t quite so mainstream yet. While commercial HMDs can show you an object so real you want to reach out and touch it, outside of media labs you really can’t.
So it’s great to see that one of the big players, Valve, is giving more attention to its controllers now that things have settled. Following the announcement of the higher-end Vive Pro, the company has announced that its next-generation controllers are now in the hands of developers.
Known as the “Knuckles EV2” they don’t look all that different from the motion controllers that we’ve seen before. Looks can be deceiving however and these controller prototypes have a lot more going on under the hood than you may think to look at them.
Feels Good Man
The current prototype has been designed to accommodate hands from 5th to 95th percentile, so virtually everyone should find them comfortable. It’s a SteamVR Tracking 2.0 device at the moment that supports USB C charging and more sensors compared to older models of controller.
Sticking It To Us
The original Vive controller only had a trackpad to control movement. This is basically the same incredibly technology used on the quirky yet somehow-revolutionary Steam Controller.
The EV2 controller does away with the giant trackpad and replaces it with two new inputs. A track button, which is a smaller force sensor, and a thumbstick. The addition of the thumbstick makes the Knuckles more like the Windows Mixed-reality controller. The trackpad and stick are both good for different kinds of interaction, so on balance this does seem like an improvement.
Getting a Grip
The most important new feature however, has to be the second set of force sensors along the grip. This means that all five of your fingers now have analogue pressure sensitivity. The scope for this is incredible. Users can pinch, crush, lightly-grip and generally manhandle objects in VR. This is combined with capacitive sensors (think of the touch later on your smartphone) that can tell the controller about what your fingers are doing.
Unfortunately you won’t be getting haptic feedback to match the fidelity of the touch sensitivity, but I for one am very excited to see what sorts of interactions developers will come up with using these new controllers.
Since these are prototypes we’ve heard nothing on price or release yet, but believe me, we’re waiting in anticipation.