Valve released some details for its upcoming virtual reality knuckle controllers, which look like a cross between its original HTC Vive wands and Oclus VR’s Touch controllers. These new ones utilize capacitive sensors to detect hand and finger movements and gestures, as well as different grip types.
The first indication we had that Valve was working on a new type of virtual reality controller came last year during a Steam Dev Day event, followed up by an early look at prototypes. Those controllers introduced some exciting new features and are now available to developers to help them build their games around the new design. Thanks to Valve’s breakdown of their features, we know a lot more about what they are capable of.
The new controllers employ a knuckle-duster-like grip which allows them to sit on the hand, whether you are holding on to them or not. This, combined with capacitive-touch sensors throughout the design means the controllers can detect which digits you have holding them at any one time, if any.
This enables features like grabbing and dropping objects by doing the same physical motion in the real world, but it also means more complicated gestures can be translated into the game. A thumbs-up and pointing fingers are equally possible, but since each finger has its own sensors, flipping the bird or doing the hang-loose gesture should also be possible.
The sensors themselves are located in different places, depending on the digit they are tracking. For the thumb, they are located within physical buttons as well as a trackpad, while the index finger has a trigger button. The other fingers, however, have their sensors mounted in the main controller grip. Each can deliver a “curl value,” that allows VR software to know just how wrapped around the controller (or not) that each finger is at any one time.
For developers that want players to use their hold hand to grab objects, these values can be combined into a singular grip strength, again offering a range of motion between a tight grip and fully released.
As it stands, these sensors do require some measure of calibration, so developers do need to set up their newly sensitive controllers. However, Valve informs us that this will not be a necessary step during the final release of the controller, suggesting they should adapt to each new user.
Interestingly enough though, we are told that the controllers will automatically recalibrate themselves during use, as the user’s skin capacitance will change over time. That should make them very handy when they become available alongside existing SteamVR hardware.