Just in case anyone secretly had the idea that Valve Software’s VR and other hardware somehow sprang fully-formed from a lab, here are some great photos and video of early prototypes, and interviews with the people who made them. Some of the hardware is quite raw-looking, some of it is recognizable, and some are from directions that were explored but went nowhere, but it’s all fascinating.
The accompanying video (embedded below) has some great background and stories about the research process, which began with a mandate to explore the concepts of AR and VR and determine what could be done and what was holding things back.
One good peek into this process is the piece of hardware shown to the left. You look into the lens end like a little telescope. It has a projector that beams an image directly into your eye, and it has camera-based tracking that updates that image extremely quickly.
The result is a device that lets you look through a little window into a completely different world. In the video (2:16) one of the developers says “It really taught us just how important tracking was. No matter [how you moved] it was essentially perfect. It was really the first glimpse we had into what could be achieved if you had very low persistence displays, and very good tracking.” That set the direction for the research that followed.
[willrandship] sent in a conversation from Reddit discussing the programming ports inside the Steam controller and their potential for hacking. From the posts and the pictures it seems the radio/SoC and the MCU can be programmed on the board, or at least they both have JTAG headers. The JTAG headers are in the form of “Tag-Connect” pads on the board so it will require the dedicated cable or soldering some hardware to the board temporarily.
From the pictures we can see a NXP LPC11U37F ARM Cortex-M0 and a Nordic nRF51822 ARM Cortex-M0 SoC with integrated Bluetooth low energy. There are only a limited number of Steam Controllers in the wild at this time so we don’t expect much in the way of hacking them thus far. There is a Steam Controller hackaday.io project just started for anyone who would like to contribute to the Steam Controller hacking.
The folks over at Valve Corporation have been busy. Just this week they have made three announcements regarding the future of their company; SteamOS, a linux-based operating system, Steam Machines (for running SteamOS), and the one we’re most interested in, the Steam Controller, an open controller. Not to worry though, the controller is not exclusive to the Steam Machines!
This is why we’re intrigued:
The Steam Controller was designed from the ground up to be hackable … We plan to make tools available that will enable users to participate in all aspects of the experience, from industrial design to electrical engineering.
We’re curious to see what that exactly means, but it definitely sounds promising! We know that Valve already takes in tons of customer feedback through their Steam Community and Workshop contributors, but how open is this controller really going to be? To read more about it as the information unfolds, check out the topics in the Steam Universe forum.
If you’re interested in joining the hardware beta, head on over here, but space is very limited.