03.02.2020, by Karlijn Raaijmakers
After teasing the public for a couple of months, the next virtual reality (VR) development is finally here: hand tracking! This is the starting point of a promising future for VR, which may soon allow us to experience virtual worlds with our own bodies and possibly even eliminate the need for controllers.
Oculus Quest Update
At the Oculus developer conference, Oculus Connect 6, the newest experimental technology update for the Oculus Quest was demonstrated, with its launch date set for early 2020. However, a little over one week into December, Oculus surprised everyone with an early Christmas present: an early release of the hand tracking update, ready for use! With this update, users can see and use a virtual version of their own hands, therefore removing the need for controllers to navigate virtual worlds. Users can click by touching their index finger and thumb together and can scroll by holding these fingers together and moving up or down.
This update can personalise VR, as well as increase levels of interactivity, embodiment and immersion, thereby creating a more realistic VR experience. Other pros are that users do not have to grab their controllers, keep them charged and pair them with the headset to enter virtual environments, so VR is becoming more accessible. Users who are not familiar with the gaming controllers can now simply use their hands instead. As Oculus mentions on their website: “from entertainment use cases to education and enterprise, the possibilities are massive.” Overall, a promising update for the VR world!
The Rocky Road to Hand Tracking
Though Oculus is taking hand tracking further than ever before, the concept has been in development for quite some time. Near the end of 2016, Oculus released the Touch Controllers, which do not just facilitate the regular controller movements, but also allows viewers to move their individual fingers in VR. However, this was only limited to the index finger and thumb.
Over the years, there have been many further developments. About two years ago, Manus released VR gloves, in which users can control virtual worlds with their hands by simply putting on the gloves. These VR gloves are mostly used for training. In 2019, Valve released a finger tracking development, which allows you to individually move all of your fingers in VR. This means users can accurately reach, pick up, drop and throw objects in virtual environments with their own virtual fingers. However, the use of the Valve Index Controllers were a requirement for this development. These controllers are equipped with 87 sensors that track your finger position, movement and pressure.
And this is exactly where Oculus are a step ahead of its competitors, as with the newest update, viewers do not need controllers to track their hands. This is because the Oculus Quest has multiple cameras integrated in the headset, that can register your hand movements. If users are uncomfortable with the hand tracking option, they can easily switch between hand tracking and controller mode at any time, with the switch-button that is built into the Oculus home menu.
At the moment, there are still limits to the Oculus Quest’s hand tracking. It is still in an early phase and is not yet widely integrated, as it currently only works with a few first party applications, such as the Oculus web browser. Besides this, the Oculus Quest does not recognise your hands once they cover each other. Other headsets, such as the Oculus Rift S, are also excluded from the update, leaving various Oculus Rift S owners to feel slightly left out.
This is an update with numerous limitations and hand and finger tracking still has a long way to go. But this Oculus Quest update might be the starting point to a new stage of VR that eliminates the need for controllers, increases virtual realism and lowers the bar to entering VR.