A Hacker’s Journey In Developing A New VR Controller

[Rob Cole] had an ambitious side project: to build an improved version of the Valve Index VR controllers. His effort, named Project Caliper, aims for optimal ergonomics and modularity for the handheld devices. [Rob] originally had plans to develop it as a consumer product by forming a small startup company, but after taking a hard look at the realities of manufacturing delays, semiconductor shortages, and the high costs of developing hardware, decided that the idea just didn’t seem justified at the time.

An XRCaliper prototype

However, the project was still to take shape. [Rob] is a self-learner, and highly passionate about the value of human-centric design. He started by building a basic controller that could be tracked in SteamVR, then a lot of work prototyping the finer points of controller design, and finally moving on to developing Project Caliper, his concept for a fully-adjustable, modular VR controller. The article he’s written takes you on a journey through the development of the project, and it is chock-full of prototype pictures for those of you who want to see just how much work can go into developing the actual physical realities of a handheld device. Some of his discoveries are pretty interesting; for example, he put a small vibration motor on a dorsal strap of one of his prototypes, thinking it would be a good place for feedback since the back of the hand is quite sensitive. It turned out that vibration applied to the back of the hand was powerfully felt as though it were inside the hand.

While its future as a consumer product isn’t certain, [Rob] is still working on the Project Caliper design and shares progress and photos on Twitter. Developing VR hardware isn’t easy, but at least there’s a much more robust framework for it nowadays, and thankfully no longer any need to roll your own tracking from scratch.

8 thoughts on “A Hacker’s Journey In Developing A New VR Controller

      1. Mass production is what he intended to do. Also, patents can definitely prevent you from building something that you own – it’s just a question of whether they are worth enforcing. Few companies are going to ever suspect that you’re infringing on their patent in your house. However, if a company is using equipment or a process that has been patented by a competitor, that competitor may choose to file an injunction (if they somehow find out about the infringment).

        1. Yep. You said it, “if a _company_ is using equipment”.

          Patents are enforceable when they’re either:

          a) Used by a commercial entity, or their usage results in private financial gain, that would otherwise not be the case, had the patented material not have been used.

          b) Create wealth in other ways, although not directly applicable to currency or trade (things like non-profits still have to abide by international patent law).

          There are a few other niché cases, but these are the two staples.

          If you’re building something in your garage, you can’t, as an individual with limited resources, be expected to make vigorous patent searches on every aspect of your design, and the stature reflects this.

    1. ‘unnecessary adjustability’ seems like a phrase that just flat out can’t apply to VR – everyone is a different size and shape and every VR game (or now more generic program) would favour a different controller layout/shape/size for better immersion and functionality. Now practical, functional, comfortable and durable over significant adjustment seems like a challenge it might not be worth going through – ‘one size fits ish’ type methods are generally durable and functional cheaply, while often not being that bad comfort wise.

      Lots of things I’ve tried with my VIVE have clearly felt wonky, largely it seems to me because the shape of the controller and the type of game are not great fits (or the game was built around another style of controller and patched to work well enough with the more sword hilt/racquet handle shape afterwards…

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