Valve opens the HTC Vive's SteamVR tracking tech to all hardware makers, for free

"We are very confident that doing so will result in new and innovative experiences for all VR customers," says Valve.

You know, there’s a quote in this press release I really like. “Making this tracking technology available to more partners is an extremely important step in the evolution of virtual reality and 3D tracking,” says Valve’s Alan Yates. He continues, “We are very confident that doing so will result in new and innovative experiences for all VR customers.”

All VR customers. For a second, it felt like I was back in 2014 again when Oculus open-sourced the original Rift developer kit. Everything seemed so friendly.

Anyway, the quote’s part of a press release announcing that Valve is, as I’m sure you guessed, opening the tracking tech used in the HTC Vive—the laser base stations, the headset tracking, and the software back-end—up to third parties. Not just allowing them to use it, but allowing them to use it royalty-free.

Coincidence or not, the announcement arrives alongside news that Intel has developed some sort of depth-sensing unicorn horn that fits onto the front of the Vive, which could potentially be used for hand-tracking.

Anyway, Valve’s new development kits come with two base stations, a “modular reference tracked object suitable for attaching to prototype devices,” EVM circuit boards, and forty sensors for tracking, plus documentation and software.

Valve says it “expects the technology to be used in a variety of devices, such as VR peripherals and other input devices.” Some examples are listed on the official site—namely, “a VR golf club or an indoor quad-copter,” but the possibilities are practically endless. I assume we’ll see a position-tracked assault rifle in the first batch. Maybe a sword. Probably a lot of more adult applications.

But I also think it’s worth applauding Valve for opening up this tech. Sure, having licensees attend a $3,000 orientation class may keep it out of reach of the garage engineer for the time being. I’d also be hard-pressed to call it “benevolent,” since it does first-and-foremost benefit the Vive and Valve's underlying SteamVR technology.

Still, Valve could have easily locked down its tech, or at least licensed it in exchange for a share of the profits. A royalty-free license on some of the most forward-thinking tech in VR at the moment? That’s huge. Like, “Unreal Engine is free now” huge.

Whether anything will come of it? I don’t know. I’m sure we’ll see some peripherals, though when and of what quality I couldn’t hazard a guess. Given the cottage industry that’s sprung up around VR though I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.

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Hayden Dingman

PC World (US online)
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