This Is Your Solution For Open Source Motion Tracking

The HTC Vive Tracker adds real-world objects to your virtual world. While these real-world objects in virtual environments are now mostly limited to a Nintendo Zapper for a Duck Hunt clone and a tennis racket, the future is clear: we’re going to be playing Duck Hunt and Wii Sports while wearing headsets. The future is so bright, it burns.

Of course, with any piece of neat computing hardware, there’s an opportunity for building an Open Source clone. That’s what [Drix] is doing with his Hackaday Prize entry. He’s created an Open Source Vive Tracker. It’s called the HiveTracker, and it is right now the best solution for tracking objects in a 3D space.

After a few missteps with ultrasonic and magnetic approaches, the team decided to piggyback on the HTC Vive lighthouses. These two base stations scan a laser beam across the room, first vertically, then horizontally. It’s an incredible piece of technology that [Alan Yates] talked about at the 2016 Hackaday Superconference.

While most microcontrollers don’t operate fast enough to see these laser sweeps, the team behind the HiveTracker found one microcontroller, with Bluetooth, and a feature called ‘PPI’. This programmable peripheral interconnect is kinda, sorta like a cross-bar, but designed for more real-time control of applications. With the right software, the team behind the HiveTracker was able to detect the lighthouses and send position and orientation data back to a computer.

This is a stupendous amount of work, and the results are remarkable. You can check out the video below and see that, yes, this is a real, Open Source Vive Tracker.

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Walking Through MRIs With A Vive

If you were to make a list of the most important technological achievements of the last 100 years, advanced medical imaging would probably have to rank right up near the top. The ability to see inside the body in exquisite detail is nearly miraculous, and in some cases life-saving.

Navigating through the virtual bodies generated by the torrents of data streaming out of something like a magnetic resonance imager (MRI) can be a challenge, though. This intuitive MRI slicer aims to change that and makes 3D walkthroughs of the human body trivially easy. [Shachar “Vice” Weis] doesn’t provide a great deal of detail about the system, but from what we can glean, the controller is based on a tablet and Vive tracker. The Vive is attached to the back of the tablet and detects its position in space. The plane of the tablet is then interpreted as the slicing plane for the 3D reconstruction of the structure undergoing study. The video below shows it exploring a human head scan; the update speed is incredible, with no visible lag. [Vice] says this is version 0.1, so we expect more to come from this. Obvious features would be the ability to zoom in and out with tablet gestures, and a way to spin the 3D model in space to look at the model from other angles.

Interested in how the machine that made those images works? We’ve covered the basics of MRI scanners before. And if you want to go further, you could always build your own.

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Nintendo Power Glove Achieves Its Promise As Vive Controller

You have to hand it to Nintendo, for blazing the virtual reality trail in consumer products a couple of decades before everyone else, even if the best that can be said for their efforts in that direction is that they weren’t exactly super-successful. Their 1989 Power Glove became little more than a difficult-to-use peripheral for everyday console games, and their 1995 Virtual Boy console was streets ahead of its time but had a 3D effect that induced discomfort in its players.

Many years later though, the Power Glove remains an intriguing product, and one that can be readily found second-hand. The folks at Teague Labs think that perhaps its time has come as the basis of a peripheral for modern VR systems, as a controller for the HTC Vive.

They’ve taken a Power Glove, and through an Arduino Due with a custom shield, interfaced it to the Vive controller mounted where the buttons would have been in its Nintendo days. The Vive provides positional data, while the Nintendo sensors provide hand data. Thus they’ve made an accomplished glove peripheral with a lot less heartache than they would have seen had they done so from scratch.

They show us a couple of environments using the glove, an iPad simulation which we’re having a little difficulty getting our heads round, and a rock/paper/scissors game which looks rather fun. If you are interested in further work, all their code is on GitHub.

We’ve shown you another hugely-upgraded Power Glove in the past, but how about one controlling a quadcopter?

Low-Tech Chair Enters the Matrix

This video demonstrates a really interesting experiment: sticking a Vive Tracker onto an ordinary chair in order to sync it up perfectly with its VR counterpart. The result? A chair that is visible in VR as a virtual object, but has a 1:1 physical world version occupying the same space. This means that unlike any other virtual object, this chair can be seen, touched, felt, moved, and actually sat in while the user is immersed in VR.

The purpose of this experiment seems to have been to virtually explore seating arrangements for real-world environments, and spawned a theatre planning tool by design studio [Agile Lens]. But we wonder if there’s unrealized potential in the idea of connecting physical objects that can be touched and held (or sat on) with their VR counterparts. Video demos of the chair test are embedded below.

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Spray Paint Goes DIY Virtual with a Vive Tracker

Here is a virtual spray painting project with a new and DIY twist to it. [Adam Amaral]’s project is an experiment in using the Vive Tracker, which was released earlier this year. [Adam] demonstrates how to interface some simple hardware and 3D printed parts to the Tracker’s GPIO pins, using it as a custom peripheral that is fully tracked and interactive in the Vive’s VR environment. He details not only the custom spray can controller, but also how to handle the device on the software side in the Unreal engine. The 3D printed “spray can controller” even rattles when shaken!

There’s one more trick. Since the Vive Tracker is wireless and completely self-contained, the completed rattlecan operates independently from the VR headset. This means it’s possible to ditch the goggles and hook up a projector, then use the 3D printed spray can to paint a nearby wall with virtual paint; you can see that part in action in the video embedded below.

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Vive Tracker Brings Easier VR Hacking

CES 2017 is over and there were VR gadgets and announcements aplenty, but here’s an item that’s worth an extra mention because it reflects a positive direction we can’t wait to see more of. HTC announced the Vive Tracker, to be released within the next few months.

The Tracker looks a bit like a cross between a hockey puck and a crown. It is a self-contained, VR trackable device with a hardware port and built-in power supply. It can be used on its own or attached to any physical object to make that object trackable and interactive in VR. No need to roll your own hardware to interface with the Vive’s Lighthouse tracking system.

Valve have been remarkably open about the technical aspects of their hardware and tracking system, and have stated they want to help people develop their own projects using the system. We’ve seen very frank and open communication on the finer points of what it took to make the Lighthouse system work. Efforts at reverse-engineering the protocol used by the controller even got friendly advice. For all the companies making headway into VR, Valve continues to be an interesting one from a hacking perspective.

[Image source for bottom of Tracker: RoadToVR]

 

Alan Yates: Why Valve’s Lighthouse Can’t Work

[Alan Yates] is a hacker’s engineer. His job at Valve has been to help them figure out the hardware that makes virtual reality (VR) a real reality. And he invented a device that’s clever enough that it really should work, but difficult enough that it wasn’t straightforward how to make it work.

In his presentation at the Hackaday Supercon 2016, he walked us through all of the design and engineering challenges that were eventually conquered in getting the Lighthouse to market. We’re still a bit overwhelmed by the conceptual elegance of the device, so it’s nice to have the behind-the-scenes details as well.

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