Skip to main content

This modular SteamVR controller fixes a major problem with VR controllers

An ergonomics expert specializing in XR has been working for years to create an entirely new SteamVR controller that is both modular and repairable, in an effort to solve multiple problems with current VR headsets and controllers made by Valve, HTC, and others.

A modular controller would make it possible to upgrade components over time or add accessories at a more affordable price than the cost of a completely separate controller. It’s a clever idea to design for upgrades rather than try to fit components around an unforgiving, single-purpose device.

Two versions of Project Modular SteamVR controllers lay side-by-side.
Two versions of Project Modular SteamVR controllers Image used with permission by copyright holder

After recycling several broken Valve Index controllers under warranty, Rob Cole was beginning to have concerns about e-waste. The cost to repair a VR controller quickly approaches the cost of a whole new unit and that is more often than not how warranty issues were handled. Cole would ship the broken controller back for recycling and a shiny new controller would arrive from Valve.

That sounds good, but even the cost of shipping two whole controllers in order to repair a broken trigger is wasteful. Cole decided to create a new SteamVR controller that was repairable, and a modular design was a side benefit that made it even more appealing.

The first version, Project Caliper, was described in a 2021 blog post by VR consultant SkarredGhost. It was quite popular, and Cole was very enthusiastic about continuing the project. Unfortunately, it was halted early on due to potential legal challenges.

A whole year has gone by and Cole hasn’t been idle. A new controller design has since been posted by SkarredGhost, showing a unique prototype that looks even better than the last. Known as Project Modular, the core is made up of a Tundra SteamVR hardware development kit (HDK) that handles the critical motion-tracking process and a rechargeable lithium battery.

As with any controller, various buttons, switches, haptics motor, cables, and connectors complete the design. What’s unique about the Project Modular controller is that it isn’t all packed into a hard plastic shell that makes accessing components nearly impossible. Instead, there are two rails that provide structure and the hand grip wraps around for comfort.

Here are all of the components in the Project Modular prototype.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

You won’t be able to place an order this year, but Cole has already gone through a couple of prototype iterations and is quite pleased with the mechanics, comfort, and accessibility. There’s more work to be done, however. The next big challenge is to find a replacement for the Tundra HDK, which is apparently hard to order.

Cole is calling for a new open standard for XR controllers and is eager to collaborate with like-minded developers and companies. For more information, reach out to Cole via his website, Immersion Mechanics.

Editors' Recommendations

Alan Truly
Computing Writer
Alan is a Computing Writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. A tech-enthusiast since his youth, Alan stays current on what is…
Apple may embrace the metaverse now after all
Apple CEO Tim Cook is superimposed over the the words augmented reality.

Apple CEO Time Cook described something similar to the metaverse in a recent interview, possibly changing his mind about a digital world to enhance our own.

The most recent revelation about Cook's changing ideas about AR/VR technology and the metaverse comes from an interview in GQ. "My thinking always evolves. Steve taught me well: never to get married to your convictions of yesterday," Cook mused.

Read more
Apple just patented a new VR headset controller — but there’s a catch
Apple VR Headset Concept by Antonio De Rosa

Apple’s mixed-reality headset is due to launch this June at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), and a freshly published patent hints at some of the controllers Apple might offer with the device. But some major caveats could prevent these accessories from ever seeing the light of day.

The patent (number 20230096068) describes how Apple could create a handheld controller with a “torque feedback mechanism” to provide immersive physical responses while using a mixed-reality headset. That might help offset the drawbacks of virtual input methods (like touchscreens), which can “detract from the realism” of the experience and leave a user unsure if their input has properly registered, according to Apple.

Read more
What is VR?
Learn the basics of VR: Here's everything you need to know about virtual reality
Playing a fitness game in VR with the Quest Pro.

VR, or Virtual Reality, is a technology designed to make you feel immersed in a virtual world. It's a distinctly different feeling than playing a game or navigating a 3D environment on a static 2D monitor, giving a real feeling of presence in the virtual space. This is typically achieved with a VR headset that places one or two displays very close to your eyes, whilst tracking your position so that it can be translated into the virtual world.

The technology has grown and improved in leaps and bounds over the past decade, with the best VR headsets featuring super high-resolution displays, ever-more nuanced motion controls, and even the ability to use them wirelessly.

Read more