Want To Support Hacker-friendly Hardware Design? Follow Valve’s Example

It’s been just over a year since Valve released Index, their flagship VR system, and it’s worth looking back at this GitHub repository as a fine example of how to provide supporting materials to a hacker-friendly hardware design. The image above shows off one of the hacker-friendly design elements: an empty space behind the visor, with a USB port off to the right, that exists for no reason other than to make it easier to mount and plug in whatever one might come up with. There’s more to it than that, however. If one wishes to provide supporting materials for a hardware design, one could certainly do worse than emulate Valve’s example.

The violet 3D model shows the area that modifications can occupy without getting in the way of any sensors.

The hardware repository contains not just CAD models of mod-friendly hardware pieces (both in high-resolution STEP models as well as STL files) but also 3D models of the sensor zones, so modders can ensure they avoid occluding any sensors with their creations. Examples are great, and one provided by Valve is the Booster; a hand controller add-on providing extra comfort for people with large hands or long thumbs. The model also doubles as a reference for designing attachments that will not interfere with any of the tracking or touch-sensitive surfaces of the controllers.

Being hacker-friendly doesn’t mean the hardware has no warranty, but it does mean that there is concrete guidance on what does or doesn’t risk voiding it. In the case of the Index hardware, the guidance is simple: “Anything that requires a T5 or smaller is not user serviceable.”

To us, the whole attitude of being hacker-friendly is exemplified by a statement about the headstrap, found about half-way down the page. The words “removing the headstrap is not recommended” are followed immediately by clear directions on how to do exactly that, demonstrating the kind of trust necessary to reduce barriers for add-ons and modifications. That is a great way to help foster experimentation, like this project for 1:1 mapping of physical elements to their VR counterparts, to make awesome spaceship cockpits.

Gaze Inside The Valve Index VR Headset In Detailed Teardown

Valve’s unique multilayer lenses are far thinner than one might expect.

Want to see what exactly is inside the $500 (headset only price) Valve Index VR headset that was released last summer? Take a look at this teardown by [Ilja Zegars]. Not only does [Ilja] pull the device apart, but he identifies each IC and takes care to point out some of the more unique hardware aspects like the fancy diffuser on the displays, and the unique multilayered lenses (which are much thinner than one might expect.)

[Ilja] is no stranger to headset hardware design, and in addition to all the eye candy of high-res photographs, provides some insightful commentary to help make sense of them. The “tracking webs” pulled from the headset are an interesting bit, each is a long run of flexible PCB that connects four tracking sensors for each side of the head-mounted display back to the main PCB. These sensors are basically IR photodiodes, and detect the regular laser sweeps emitted by the base stations of Valve’s lighthouse tracking technology. [Ilja] also gives us a good look at the rod and spring mechanisms seen above that adjust distance between the two screens.

Want more? [Ilja] also has a gallery of high-resolution images available for those you who fancy a closer look. Also, if you missed it, we covered an examination of the Index’s optical design as part of everything you probably didn’t know about field of view in head-mounted displays.

[via Twitter]

Everything You Probably Didn’t Know About FOV In HMDs

VR headsets have been seeing new life for a few years now, and when it comes to head-mounted displays, the field of view (FOV) is one of the specs everyone’s keen to discover. Valve Software have published a highly technical yet accessibly-presented document that explains why Field of View (FOV) is a complex thing when it pertains to head-mounted displays. FOV is relatively simple when it comes to things such as cameras, but it gets much more complicated and hard to define or measure easily when it comes to using lenses to put images right up next to eyeballs.

Simulation of how FOV can be affected by eye relief [Source: Valve Software]
The document goes into some useful detail about head-mounted displays in general, the design trade-offs, and naturally talks about the brand-new Valve Index VR headset in particular. The Index uses proprietary lenses combined with a slight outward cant to each eye’s display, and they explain precisely what benefits are gained from each design point. Eye relief (distance from eye to lens), lens shape and mounting (limiting how close the eye can physically get), and adjustability (because faces and eyes come in different configurations) all have a role to play. It’s a situation where¬†every millimeter matters.

If there’s one main point Valve is trying to make with this document, it’s summed up as “it’s really hard to use a single number to effectively describe the field of view of an HMD.” They plan to publish additional information on the topics of modding as well as optics, so keep an eye out on their Valve Index Deep Dive publication list.

Valve’s VR efforts remain interesting from a hacking perspective, and as an organization they seem mindful of keen interest in being able to modify and extend their products. The Vive Tracker was self-contained and had an accessible hardware pinout for the express purpose of making hacking easier.¬† We also took a look at Valve’s AR and VR prototypes, which give some insight into how and why they chose the directions they did.