Etee, the finger-tracking VR controller with SteamVR Tracking, has nearly reached its Kickstarter goal with plenty of time to spare. Though the controller is designed to be free of buttons, sticks, and triggers (relying instead on finger tracking), its creators say it can adapt to existing VR games. TG0, the company behind Etee, has shared Half-Life: Alyx gameplay with the controllers and a Q&A which speaks to the decisions underlying the controller’s design.

The Etee Kickstarter launched on April 1st, 2020, setting out to raise £45,900 (~$56,000) for Etee controller dev kits. The campaign appears to be just days away from reaching its goal with nearly four weeks to spare.

And while the controllers aren’t designed strictly for VR gaming, TG0 has marketed for that use-case (among others) and claims that they are perfectly adaptable for the input needs of existing SteamVR games.

Image courtesy TG0

To demonstrate that the Etee controllers are up to the task, the company has published two videos showing Half-Life: Alyx played with the controllers (note: that the company is using Vive Trackers for now but the final controller will include a bespoke SteamVR Tracking module built into the controller).

The good news is that Half-Life: Alyx and many other games can adapt to the controller without any special modifications to the game (thanks to Valve’s forward-looking SteamVR Input system).

At a minimum the game looks entirely playable with the Etee controllers, though without trying it ourselves, it’s hard to say how consistently gestures like grabbing, throwing, and shooting will perform without any buttons or triggers. If TG0 creates a fully compatible driver for the SteamVR Input system, it should be possible to tweak many of these parameters and dial in something that feels decent (assuming the underlying hardware that tracks fingers is doing its job well). At a minimum, we’re glad to see the company not shying away from showing the gaming use-case of the Etee controllers in greater detail.

In addition to the Alyx footage, TG0 has also shared a self-Q&A with Road to VR (below) which expounds on the design decisions underlying the controller. TG0 has also committed to answering more questions here in the comments, so feel free to drop a line below if you have additional questions.

TG0 co-founder Mick Lin | Image courtesy TG0

Mick Lin, our super-creative interface product design specialist, originally hails from Taiwan. He began developing etee after co-founding TG0 back in 2016.

What sort of response have you seen so far to etee?

People are really impressed, which feels great after spending so much time developing it. Most people are fascinated by how this tiny controller works – it’s something completely new that people haven’t seen before. We are having a lot of debate about the buttonless aspect. Some people like the idea. Some don’t. But we really believe we are doing the right thing.

etee is your baby. How did the idea first come about?

Initially, we didn’t set out to make a controller at all. It was during a brainstorming session on the uses of TG0’s technology that we realised how well our tech would work when combined with a VR controller. The more we discussed the idea, the more we knew it was something we just had to make.

What were your key goals as you set out designing etee?

We wanted the lightest and simplest design possible, something that was intuitive to use with an impressive finger sensing level. Because we wanted the controller to be quick and easy to put on and take off, we steered clear of fiddly glove designs. What we’ve ended up with is a controller that can be slipped on and off in seconds, and because it’s so small and light, you can even stop to answer the phone while wearing it.

Why did you decide not to use buttons?

When you think about it, buttons are pretty archaic and clunky technology. Without button layouts to memorise, movement becomes intuitive and a lot closer to how it is in real life. Instead of cumbersome buttons, we made a controller that harnesses finger-sensing technology. This leads to a totally different, superior experience.

Shooting games are growing in popularity in the VR/AR sphere. Can etee mimic a gun with no trigger button?

It certainly can – you just move your index finger as you normally would to pull a trigger. etee is actually a game-changer in this area: thanks to advanced pressure sensing, you can have guns with various trigger sensitivities and step triggers, something that no other controller offers. Rather than building the controller around a trigger function, we went for a human-centric design. If you focus heavily on buttons, layout and hand position for shooting, then suddenly everything is a shooting game. As the old saying goes, if you only have a hammer every problem is a nail.

How many versions of the design did you go through?

There were actually more than 40 iterations, each version honing different elements of the design. Every stage brought new challenges to work through: we improved everything from the signal detection and wireless connection to etee’s ability to detect different sizes of hands when it’s picked up. We experimented with different 3D forms and textures, and took notes of different user’s experience. We incorporated all of that feedback to make sure that users experience real freedom with their hand gestures.

How does TG0’s technology set etee apart from other controllers?

We’re tactile control specialists, which means we can bring something to the table that few others can. The conductive material we’ve used is pretty unique and gives etee a powerful sensing system. The structure itself is fairly simple, yet there’s no other controller like it. We wanted the end result to be truly different, hence etee’s ergonomic shape and the cylindrical control surface, which means that people can interact with it intuitively.

Can you see etee being used outside of VR?

Absolutely, I think there is scope for etee to be used in all sorts of ways and we’ve designed it with that fluidity in mind. It works well as a joystick in gaming, for example, as well as for hacking other control devices. I can also see it being used for corporate VR training purposes too, as well as uses in telecommunications and tele-presence. The possibilities for a controller like this are far-reaching.

What is the next step?

We want to take etee to the next level. To do so we need backers for our Kickstarter campaign. We have started well but every backer makes a difference; please support us if you can.

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  • Jakub Kamecki

    Thanks for the write up! Mick is a very talented designer and technologist.
    Happy to answer any further questions the community might have, on his behalf, and the team behind etee.

  • johnny

    All major VR headsets comes bundled with controllers.. why is this even exist ? seems like a very unnecessary product, and it’s also not cheap either.. so I really don’t see the point of this.. kind of ridiculous to be honest.

    • Brian Brown

      If you have a Vive or a Vive pro with the original ‘wands’, you might be looking at upgrading your controllers. There really is one viable option, and that would be the Index controllers.

      It’s pretty clear this company thinks there should be other options to upgrading. More options = better for us. Don’t knock products when they bring you another option.

      Personally, I’m surprised that there aren’t a lot more VR companies producing SteamVR products for general consumers.

      • Jakub Kamecki

        There’s not a lot of companies doing accessories, because the tracking components are prohibitively expensive. People wonder why our tech is so expensive – biggest cost driver is the SteamVR tracking.

        And, unfortunately, we don’t have a massive software store behind us to help with taking a loss on the hardware.

    • Jakub Kamecki

      All major VR headsets come with controllers, because there’s no one else offering standalone, best in class controller options, not yet at least. Besides our research shows that people would be more open to buy more headsets if it would be possible for them to use one controller across all of them – we have that capability. We don’t have a HMD so don’t compete with any of the HMD manufacturers. We can therefore integrate with all of them.

      Besides, you’ve recently had the announcement of the StarVR HMD. That doesn’t come with a controller.

    • kuhpunkt

      They don’t come bundled. You can buy the HMDs by themselves. Don’t be so negative.

  • Happy to see them trying to show off their controllers, I think they’re really cool ideas… but Alyx? really? A game heavily focused on shooting, and their video shows no part of the game where they shoot any guns. Has me a little concerned.

    • Jakub Kamecki

      We will continue uploading more content of Alyx. We are now working on VRChat. We are planning to at least release one more video of Alyx and then maybe Boneworks.

    • Baldrickk

      For a hand tracking controller, when it’s not being used to push buttons etc (where the game changes the shape of the hand itself) the in game hands are being held rather staticly in both position and shape.
      While the former will likely be because of the seated play, the latter seems to suggest that the finger tracking is only used to emulate button presses?

      A better view of the hands while playing, to see how they are used would be better – the monitor position is independent of the player after all so that should be relatively easy, or screen capture and embed.

      A more technically interesting section of a game would benefit here.
      While Alyx may be the game everyone is talking about now, I’d be more impressed?/satisfied? Seeing some gameplay that on normal controllers requires multiple inputs.
      What we’ve seen so far pretty much just amounts to “grip” and “activate teleport”.
      Something like some Pavlov, moving with smooth loco, with firing, reloading and maybe juggling the gun between hands to show that the latency/reliability of the inputs are there would be a more impressive showing of the capabilities.

      • Jakub Kamecki

        I’ll pass on your suggestion about Pavlov to the team.

        Regarding HLA gameplay we will continue with EP3 at least where we will have more gunplay and better hand interactions.

  • Thinker

    I’m failing to see how this is any better than the valve knuckles or Oculus quest camera hand tracking. This looks like vaporware to me.

    • Jakub Kamecki

      Here you go.

      vs Index

      1. much lighter – etee 120g vs index 196g (40% reduction)
      2. more robust
      3. sweat water and dust resistant – easier to clean and disinfect between uses and users
      4. button-free – no physical buttons or sticks that can break or snag on clothing and no stick drift issues
      5. no buttons means less distractions, more immersive and simple experience
      6. more advanced proximity, touch, gesture, pressure sensing unlocks new possibilities in gestural control and immersion
      7. more natural, neutral, human-centric hand position and fit
      8. more accessible and less intimidating for casual users
      9. less complex manufacturing and construction – more sustainable, easier to recycle

      vs Camera tracking

      – not limited by “front of face” camera FOV
      – enables full natural human activities like dancing, fitness, presenting and others where hands are not front of face
      – hand gesture and hand interactions are done almost sightless and having them constantly in your faces is unnatural and immersion breaking
      – a lot of effort is required to operate current UI/UX elements
      – lag free, robust finger tracking
      – pressure support – means you can go beyond just making a fist, we know how hard you are clenching enabling more advanced interactions and again more immersion
      – solves oclusion issues
      – additional control surfaces like a trackpad provide for more fine control options
      – due to small size of the device a hybrid approach is possible – one hand free one hand with etee for advanced controls

      • Thinker

        Clearly you are vastly over exaggerating the problems with knuckles. And the hand tracking with camera is still in infancy. I don’t actually agree with what you’re saying.

        1. My hands don’t sweat much if at all
        2. My 8 year old daughter has no problems lifting the knuckle controllers or touch controllers. Matter of fact a little heft for exercise is welcomed.
        3. Don’t care for button free or track pad.
        4. No buttons means, awkward controller.
        5. Not sure what you gain in features that isn’t already being done.
        6. Not sure how it’s more natural than hand tracking with a camera. Especially when you have to put a tracker on top of it
        7. Neither the touch controller or the knucklers are intimidating. I’ve had VR parties and no one has complained about it being “intimidating”.
        8. Easier manufacturing, means cheap.

        I think you are either vested in these, which means you have to defend it. But from where I’m standing these seem pointless.

        • Jakub Kamecki

          If camera tracking is in it’s infancy, then it’s not ready for prime time and a competitor can enter the space. No matter the level of readiness it likely will never achieve full spherical freedom of movement. Never will have haptic feedback, never will be able to do proper pressure sensing.

          1. My hands don’t sweat much if at all

          other users do and it interferes with sensing.

          2. My 8 year old daughter has no problems lifting the knuckle controllers or touch controllers. Matter of fact a little heft for exercise is welcomed.

          it’s not welcomed when you have to perform long tasks. people with limited upper body strength or motor disabilities appreciate a lighter controller. etee being 120g vs nearly 200g is fact.

          4. No buttons means, awkward controller.

          means more robust, dust, water and sweat resistant.
          issues with index sticks are well documented.

          5. Not sure what you gain in features that isn’t already being done.

          we are simplifying the interface to make it more immersive for casual users that don’t have a background in gaming.

          6. Not sure how it’s more natural than hand tracking with a camera. Especially when you have to put a tracker on top of it

          we are developing our own trackers, see attached. and i’ve already addressed camera hand tracking as being a sub par experience.

          7. Neither the touch controller or the knucklers are intimidating. I’ve had VR parties and no one has complained about it being “intimidating”.

          and countless users and developers agree with us that current controllers are not geared towards casual users and need to have the UX/UI explained, a lot.

          8. Easier manufacturing, means cheap.

          biggest cost driver for us is the SteamVR tracking components. nothing we can do about that.

          And I am invested. I’m part of the team that developed them and is bringing them to market. Doesn’t mean that I’m wrong.

          • Thinker

            1. So are your controllers. Which are not ready for prime time. Especially with a tracker on top of it. Or your “own” hasn’t been developed. 120g vs 200g is not exactly true, if you consider that you didn’t weigh it with the tracker, or it’s final weight when you do add your “own”.
            2. Minor group of individuals may have sweat problems. But I question how long they are playing for that to occur. My playtime usually does not exceed 2 hours, but perspiration in my hands has never been an issue, or of anyone I know.
            3. I’ll Grant you the robust increases with lack of buttons, but I still think you need buttons and a joystick. This reminds me of the valve trackpad controller, where they removed the joystick and instead provided you with two track pads. The controller was awkward and frustrating. And except for a minor set of individuals, the controller was not well received. I sent mine back after a month of frustration. I haven’t heard anything if that controller in years. And I’m sure they also thought it would be more “natural”.
            4. Players that don’t have a background in playing are not dumb, they can easily figure out 2 buttons and a joystick. You are vastly underestimating the audience. A joystick is very intuitive and feels very natural for walking and running.

            I’ll Grant you that some stationary games or experiences, like beat saber may do without buttons. But a vast majority of fast paced games do benefit from buttons and the ability to walk and run without swinging your arms.

            There was a game, can’t remember the name, where you had to swing your arms to walk and run. This felt awkward from the get-go. So much that I never touched the game again. To me the biggest issue in VR is not the controller. It’s the headset. Now if you made that significant lighter, then I agree with you about weight.

            Maybe I’ve grown to be a skeptic when it comes to new hardware. I’ve been around gaming for over 3 decades. I’ve own just about every system dating back to the Atari 2600. I am from a family and a house of gamers. and over the years, I’ve read and heard many promises by companies. The one recurring theme; they either vastly over promise and under deliver, or don’t deliver at all. I think you are way over selling these or way overstating minor problems with other hardware.

            When and if you ever release these. The majority of the audience will be the judge of these, not the outliers. Good luck.

          • Jakub Kamecki

            1. we can make a reasonably good estimation based on the chip weight, sensors used, plastics.

            2. sweat is just part of the issue. we are targeting outside use down the line, fitness and other activities where higher humidity is a fact of life.

            3. the steam controller has a very loyal fan base. our thumbpad provides full stick functionality.

            4. if a thumbpad provides the same functionality and extends the longevity of the product than it’s a clear win to me.

            we are targeting a broad range of experiences. not just games.

            > When and if you ever release these. The majority of the audience will be the judge of these, not the outliers. Good luck.

            absolutely. and this is the crux of the issue. people judge us through their past experiences of failed hardware companies and lack of first hand experience with the controller itself. as much as I may be overly enthusiastic that’s also not a fair argument to make.

          • Thinker

            Thank you for your time. Not a lot of developers will come here and lay their arguments bare and open themselves up to questions. From that standpoint, I have some respect for you.

            I wasn’t personally attacking you or even your product. But I do have to question why I would invest in these if they ever do make it to the shelves. These controllers will likely run several hundreds of dollars? Not an easy investment if I already have working controllers.

            I understand your optimism and enthusiasm. I too work in research and development, albeit not in the gaming industry. And, I too can get enthusiastic and optimistic of new ideas and products. Which can be a blinding detriment at times.

            Perhaps you’ve done the math and the outliers are larger than what I believe they are. I happen to believe that these controllers are niche, but I don’t have the data to back this up.

            Here is what I do know. The vast majority of users prefer an analog stick. They are tried and proven over the years. There is a reason why keyboards feel better with physical keys. There is something about the feeling of the joystick, it feels reassuring.

            If you made this modular to where I can have a joystick, then perhaps this stays on my radar as a maybe something to try. As of now, and from what I’ve read, I just don’t view them as a step up from the knuckle controllers or a must have item. But then again, I may not be your target audience.

            Again, thanks for your time.

          • Jakub Kamecki

            We are going via kickstarter to determine market fit. We don’t have massive market research resources so this is our way of testing the waters. But the initial feedback we’ve seen from early demos is positive.

            Controllers, are expensive, yes. But that can be said for VR in general – it’s early stages tech and haven’t achieved massive economies of scale. We hope that with time we will be able to reduce cost of materials and pass on the savings to the consumers.

            And as you know Valve Index controllers aren’t exactly working flawlessly now. So there is definitely space in the market for another more reliable choice.

  • kuhpunkt

    I’m not convinved on the button-less tech, like the missing trigger, but I’d at least like to try them.

    • Jakub Kamecki

      The trigger functionality is fully preserved and even enhanced thanks to the 100 units of pressure sensing we offer.

      But anyway. Thanks for keeping an open mind about this.

      • Hacker4748

        That’s not the problem. We don’t care about how the controller works out if the trigger has been pulled. We care about that we don’t get to feel the pulling of the trigger. The sensation is completely missing. You’re developing a gun which has no trigger but instead relies on one wrapping his index finger around the grip. That’s not how guns work, that’s not how people expect them to work, I don’t think many people see it as an improvement, and it’s definitely not a motivation to buy.

        • Jakub Kamecki

          You may have been right if we went down this path to develop the best gun controller. But we hadn’t. We want a more general purpose controller that can offer a great, immersive experience across the board. Perhaps it’s not the best choice for shooters. It’s pretty damn great for everything else.

          • Hacker4748

            Fair enough, though in that case I think you might be too early for a general VR controller, considering how many VR games are using some kind of shooting mechanics.

            Is there any other haptic feedback when squeezed, i.e. is the stick “squishy” or “squeezable” in any way? Or is it just a rigid stick?

          • Jakub Kamecki

            The silicon rubber is well rubbery so there’s some give to it. Also we do have a haptic engine that can be set to vibrate depending on the interaction.

          • Hacker4748

            Well, not a controller for me, but good luck to you.

        • Moe Curley

          Well you don’t feel anything that you catch and throw a grenade in HLA either and that works fine but my thought was it would be trivial to make a clip on trigger mechanism that would affect the field sensors. It could be a dumb clip on trigger. Wouldn’t even need to contain any electronics. You should make it a stretch goal.

  • hardcorevr

    if you want to know the definition of vocal minority look at the comments

    face it: people are begging for analog sticks and a ton of buttons are just the select few flat gamers who dont care about real immursion and may not even kniw what it is

    they rush to the internet and demand flat centric controls and ruin the future of vr control design…

    dear internet: vr isnt just flat gaming that allows you to turn your head…if you dont care about immusion play flat

  • doug

    “thanks to advanced pressure sensing, you can have guns with various
    trigger sensitivities and step triggers, something that no other
    controller offers.” What? Aren’t all triggers sensing variable throw, since the playstation 2?

    • Jakub Kamecki

      Can you share how many levels of sensitivity any of the existing implementations have? Valve doesnt share Index’s fidelity anywhere.

      • Hacker4748

        But why should we care about the controller sensing the pressure if the finger cannot feel the resistance? Where is the haptic feedback improvement?

        • Jakub Kamecki

          I’ve mentioned this previously in other places – if all you care about is trigger then etee may not be the controller for you. We are trying to be a more general purpose controller.

          • Hacker4748

            We’ve had this discussion under another comment. The trigger is definitely not all I care about. I see it as removing useful functionality without any suitable replacement, and you don’t. I guess we can leave it at that.

      • doug

        It was your claim, not mine. You’re unable to back your statement about the trigger, then? By the way, Playstation 2 had 8 bits on the trigger, for 256 levels.

        • Popin

          Steam Controller triggers have 1024 levels with two stages of trigger pull. I believe the Index Controllers are the same trigger system.

          • doug

            Wow. I wonder if a player’s pulse might be detectable with that kind of resolution.

          • Jakub Kamecki

            Cool. Thanks for the clarification. Our technology approaches the challenge differently and we get different advantages.

            Still I’ve learned something new today.

        • Jakub Kamecki

          I can back up my statement perfectly fine. With the same technology we can detect 50 units of proximity and touch and 50 units of pressure. And no other trigger assembly is offering that.

  • If someone is interested, I have reviewed these controllers on my blog and on Youtube:

  • psuedonymous

    “Why did you decide not to use buttons?

    When you think about it, buttons are pretty archaic and clunky
    technology. Without button layouts to memorise, movement becomes
    intuitive and a lot closer to how it is in real life. Instead of
    cumbersome buttons, we made a controller that harnesses finger-sensing
    technology. This leads to a totally different, superior experience.”
    I disagree with this on a fundamental level.

    Natural hand interactions are not motion/pose based. Hands are actually pretty bad at maintaining or holding a pose in free space without direct observation and concentration. Instead, hands are tactile manipulators. They deal with direct contact exceedingly well. All our natural interactions with tools, and self-interactions (e.g. hand gestured and sign language) are based on contact with another object or self-contact with the same or the other hand. Here, buttons and joysticks (and sliders, levers, etc) work excellently and allow for fine and high fidelity manipulation without observation. Gestures do not allow this.

    This is a problem faced by all free-space hand tracking setups, and why you see every one implement self-contact as a fundamental interaction mechanism (e.g. Hololens and Quest’s fingertip-touch, the ‘wrist menus’ from Leap Motion’s Project Northstar demo, etc).

    • psuedonymous

      As an example of how bad non-contact posing is for hands: hold out a hand in front of you, and pick one finger to extend. Make sure you are not touching any of your fingers against any other fingers or your palm (think making a ‘claw’ gesture with one finger extended). Take a photo with your other hand if you can.

      Now move that hand behind your back, and rotate your wrist a few times. You don’t need to violently shake it, just turning your wrist is fine. Bring that hand back to the front, and compare it to the pose your started with. You will be surprised just how much your fingers have moved just from not being able to observe them directly.

    • Jakub Kamecki

      Not sure, what’s the argument you are trying to make here. We are not free space. Specifically we give you a physical object to hang on to and manipulate. That manipulation is reflected in VR.

      It’s actually my key pitch – that humans are fundamentally tactile and should be afforded a controller that taps into one of our key senses. Which camera tracking doesn’t do.

      • psuedonymous

        My point is that non-contact motion sensing is not of any value in a handheld controller (either vs.freespace sensing or
        vs. a more useful controller), and analog pressure-sensing is decades-old (PS2 era!) technology already implemented in buttons and triggers, that give a tactile indicator of confirmation interface action that an unyeilding or minimally-yielding rubber surface does not. Or in other words: you can feel that you indeed pressed a button (and subsequently squeezed it) because you can feel the button move. When you squeeze a rubber block, you are reliant on external triggered cues to confirm if your input was even registered. It’s a regression to the frustration of ‘wiimote waggle’ input.

        • Jakub Kamecki

          If you are coming at this problem from a button-based interaction paradigm. Then yeah sure, a button will likely be the better interaction option.

          But you are still not solving for the problem of the abstraction layer that button-based interactions create. What button does what, how do I find these buttons with the HMD on. The mental load of having to remember the controls is quite large, vs just interacting with the VR space with your hands.

          We are offering part of the solution – a more streamlined option for immersion and control. We are providing for backward compatibility, but the controllers will shine if we manage to change the conversation and developers start incorporating a more natural control scheme that is more intuitive than remembering and pressing buttons.

          • edzieba

            The buttons are found because they’re under your fingers, and you can feel them. With freehand interactions, and without any way to physically morph the controller in order to provide different tactile response, you are reliant on hand pose changes to indicate different desired inputs, and back to the same problem freehand interactions have.

            The problem of input identification and input discoverability is not solved by removing tactile cues, and that’s all replacing buttons/triggers with a pressure-sensing surface does. It does not mean you do not need to remember inputs (because you now need to remember a hand pose rather than remembering a button), and it does not remove abstraction (because until you can morph the controller or directly stimulate nerve endings, the controller remains a non-match to the shape and pose of the object being manipulated).

            Or in other words: ‘just interacting with the VR space with your hands’ is equally unintuitive if you have a chunk of rubber on your palm or are wearing gloves or are using freehand tracking.

            The final issue is that as VR tends towards actual reality, the optimum solution tends towards the physical solutions already produced and optimised. And the vast majority of the time, that physical solution is buttons and switches. Wheel-reinvention is fun to look at (‘minority report’ interfaces and the Wiimote) but swiftly abandoned when people actually need to get things done.

          • Jakub Kamecki

            > The buttons are found because they’re under your fingers, and you can feel them

            not when the users dont have prior experience with these types of input devices.

            > you are reliant on hand pose changes to indicate different desired inputs, and back to the same problem freehand interactions have.

            This quote and the following paragraph essentially describe the problem of UX/UI design and not the control method.

            > And the vast majority of the time, that physical solution is buttons and switches. Wheel-reinvention is fun to look at (‘minority report’ interfaces and the Wiimote) but swiftly abandoned when people actually need to get things done.

            until one solution suddenly becomes the new de facto standard

  • hareket

    i dont understand why people are so negativ here, i seriously cant wait until i can safely purchase these bad boys, personally i only have 2 concerns. the trigger, i feel like when i play 8 hours of boneworks or pavlov my trigger finger will cramp because i dont have anything to hold on i think? and my second and huge concern WHEN CAN I BUY IT AND I HOPE SHIPPING WILL BE LESS THAN 3 DAYS