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.

Aggressive Indoor Flying Thanks To SteamVR

With lockdown regulations sweeping the globe, many have found themselves spending altogether too much time inside with not a lot to do. [Peter Hall] is one such individual, with a penchant for flying quadcopters. With the great outdoors all but denied, he instead endeavoured to find a way to make flying inside a more exciting experience. We’d say he’s succeeded.

The setup involves using a SteamVR virtual reality tracker to monitor the position of a quadcopter inside a room. This data is then passed back to the quadcopter at a high rate, giving the autopilot fast, accurate data upon which to execute manoeuvres. PyOpenVR is used to do the motion tracking, and in combination with MAVProxy, sends the information over MAVLink back to the copter’s ArduPilot.

While such a setup could be used to simply stop the copter crashing into things, [Peter] doesn’t like to do things by half measures. Instead, he took full advantage of the capabilities of the system, enabling the copter to fly aggressively in an incredibly small space.

It’s an impressive setup, and one that we’re sure could have further applications for those exploring the use of drones indoors. We’ve seen MAVLink used for nefarious purposes, too. Video after the break.

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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]


Revealed: Homebrew Controller Working In Steam VR

[Florian] has been putting a lot of work into VR controllers that can be used without interfering with a regular mouse + keyboard combination, and his most recent work has opened the door to successfully emulating a Vive VR controller in Steam VR. He uses Arduino-based custom hardware on the hand, a Leap Motion controller, and fuses the data in software.

We’ve seen [Florian]’s work before in successfully combining a Leap Motion with additional hardware sensors. The idea is to compensate for the fact that the Leap Motion sensor is not very good at detecting some types of movement, such as tilting a fist towards or away from yourself — a movement similar to aiming a gun up or down. At the same time, an important goal is for any added hardware to leave fingers and hands free.

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