A couple of minutes ago, Oculus released Hand Tracking for the Oculus Quest. They had announced it in late September at their yearly conference, Oculus Connect. It was scheduled for early 2020, so today’s news was a surprise.
Hand tracking means that the Quest can track your hands directly, without the need for controllers. This is a big fucking deal, because it’s another important step towards convenience. Let’s see why.
When in 2013 Oculus rekindled VR with its Rift DK1, there was very limited interactivity. Instead of 6 DoF controllers, users had to use existing gamepads and keyboards. The release of the Rift CV1 in early 2016 still didn’t change this fact. Only by the end of that year could gamers get their hand on the Oculus Touch controllers. Now, you had your hands in VR and could truly interact with virtual worlds.
6 DoF controllers lifted VR to a completly new level. However, until May 2018 using VR still meant hooking up your headst to your PC (which needed to have great specs and therefore wasn’t cheap), setting up your sensors in your room, and praying that no reconfiguration of them was needed before or during your time in VR.
In May 2018, the Oculus Go was released. The first mobile (or all-in-one) VR headset. No more computer and external sensors needed. Great. But in some sense, this was also a step back. The Go only supports 3 degrees of freedom, not the 6 that Rift has. This means, it can only track rotation of your head and hand, but not your translation (i.e. movement) in physical space. Furthermore, it only has one controller that is more of a remote than a hand. Nevertheless, it’s portability and ease of setup, combined with the low price tag of 200 USD meant that people would buy it, carry it, and show it to their friends. For some use cases, like watching a movie or playing a fun little game, it was perfect. It was not real VR, though.
The real thing came exactly one year later in May 2019 in the form and shape of the Oculus Quest: 6 DoF all-in-one VR. No PC needed, no sensors needed. Two Oculus Touch controllers that represent your hands in VR. Four on-board cameras that use computer vision to track your and your hands' position in the room. Price? A mere Four hundred bucks.
The Quest has catapulted VR to yet another level in its 9 months of existence. It has made VR more convenient, and by lowering the barrier to entry, let millions of people experience VR for the first time.
Hand tracking will accelerate what the Quest has started. And please spare me the hate from gamers. Yes, there’s still a use case for controllers if you want to play serious games and hand tracking is not going to replace that. The point is that for a lot of applications outside of gaming, you don’t need controllers.
Facebook’s goal is to get 1 billion people into VR, and it seems like they are taking steps towards it. It’s paramount that VR as a computing platform sees more adoption outside of gaming, across education, productivity and social. Hand tracking, I’m convinced, will be an important force in this regard.
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