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.
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.
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.