Dr. Masahiko Inami, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, recently tweeted a picture of an incredibly small, homebrewed 3D-tracked sensor module that has us reeling at the implications for ever-smaller tracked objects in VR.

Update (July 10th, 2018): Project creator George Chernyshov got in contact with Road to VR to correct some items in this article.

Despite Dr. Masahiko Inami’s claim the sensor module seen in the photo above was a “Vive tracker,” Chernyshov tells us it is “indeed not a Steam VR compatible tracker by itself, just a sensor module with an amp and filters, but when attached to an xx MHz MCU that can measure time with microsecond resolution it can “know” where it is in 3d space.”

Chernyshov and Krylova’s project is partially based off hardware developer Alexander Shtuchkin’s work, which uses a Valve SteamVR base station to positionally track and autopilot a drone.

Chernyshov tells me there are a few distinctions here that separate it from a true SteamVR basestation-compatible sensor module, although a similar SteamVR basestation-compatible unit could be of comparable size:

“[I]f it is used for VR, then it would obviously require some sort of link to the computer that renders the VR scene. However the projects it was made for do not require any VR and an MCU that knows where the sensor is in 3D space is enough. But there’s no reason why a Lighthouse-compatible (note, officially not SteamVR-compatible, though I see no reason why not) tracker can’t be of a comparable size.”

Regarding the price, Chernyshov told me this: “This device can indeed be used with the Vive Lighthouse system, but with a few extra components. The price of the components in quantities we ordered was indeed below 300 JPY. The quantities were below one hundred, but still more than DIYers normally would order.”

A special thanks goes out to Bernd Kreimeier for helping with corrections to this article. I’ve replaced the words “SteamVR tracker” with “3D-tracked sensor module” to better reflect the critical distinction listed above.

A corrected version of the original article, which was first published June 6th, follows below:

Measuring about the size of a single AirPod earphone, Dr. Inami says the 3D-tracked sensor module only cost ¥300 in parts, or around $2.70 USD to make.

The mini sensor module seems to lack a battery, which would noticeably increase the size (see update above). As an engineering feat though, it shows just how small things can get when dealing with SteamVR tracking sensors—the lightweight, low power, low-cost ASIC sensors that can be used to receive lasers emitted from SteamVR tacking basestations.

Valve provides royalty free access to its sensors, and can be purchased from a number of part suppliers on their own.

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SteamVR supports up to 32 sensors for a single object; as you would imagine, the higher the sensors on a single object, the greater 360 coverage you’ll have. HTC’s own Vive Tracker contains 23 sensors for 360 degree coverage. The mini 3D-tracked sensor’s three sensor nodes are likely a bare minimum for basic tracking, and we wouldn’t expect something that small to be nearly as robust as the consumer Vive Tracker mentioned above.

It’s certainly a cool way to illustrate just how little you might need to create your own mini 3D sensor with the requisite parts.

For users looking to jump into SteamVR hardware hacking, a company called Virtual Builds is offering a full SteamVR tracker kit, which includes everything you need to create your own SteamVR 2.0 tracker.

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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 4,000 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • brandon9271

    This is really great! I’m excited about this. Imagine a Samsung Odyssey with some cheap, DIY Vive Trackers on it. Vive Pro for $400 ;)

    • kontis

      You would need lighthouse base stations to make them work.

      • brandon9271

        Well… Yeah. That’s a given ;)

  • LowRezSkyline

    Nice and honestly something HTC should already be doing – aka selling a super cheap tracker. Right now at 99 bucks each (Amazon), it’s only 30 bucks less than a full Vive Wand. Makes no sense. If you want developers to adopt these and make their software work with it why the hell is it priced so nobody will buy them?

    So yes, this is great news and maybe will embarrass HTC to drop there price. I would pay 60 for 2 HTC Trackers, that would be a reasonable price for that add-on – not 100 each.

    • brandon9271

      HTC only know how to price gouge people

      • Pasi Ripari

        and how to release the best vr headset on the market

        • brandon9271

          The Samsung Odyssey has the same screen as the Pro and better optics and cost half as much. Lighthouse is great but that’s thanks to Valve, not HTC

        • Psycold

          This comment didn’t age well.

    • G-man

      the problem with that is htc is near bakrptcy, so their strategy is charge as much as possible, rather than playing a long game of charging less and getting more customers.

  • psuedonymous

    It’s not just a battery it lacks. It also needs an IMU, a DAC (to go with the on-board amp), onboard clock, interface hardware (to report the detected timing pulses back back to the PC), and sensor constellation calibration within the SteamVR runtime (I’d be worried about repeatibility with that FDM mounting, so this would likely need to be per-constellation). The IMU could be omitted if you were only going to ‘track’ objects that don’t move, or only move slowly and you don’t care about accurate tracking during motion.

    Also, a blast from the past for the old hands: this is the ‘Xtal Vision’ guy!

  • insum snoy

    Put them on the market, ill buy some; ill stick one on my cat. This will blow open the gates for development of full body tracking as long as they stay cheap.

    • gnuneo

      TBH, that sounds like a great idea, my little bundle of love, claws and teeth delights in launching herself at my unprotected legs when i’m standing and doing odd motions with a helmet on. An ‘interesting’ interjection of heart-pounding reality depending on what is being played.

      And, of course, would finally be able to take the ‘Ships Cat’ on long journeys in Elite Dangerous. ;)

      • Morfium

        Now I’ve got the image of a copilot cat with its own vr headset pushing buttons while walking over your cockpit and lying down on the most essential controls to sleep stuck in my head.

        • gnuneo

          You have the gift of clairvoyance!!! :o

  • MarquisDeSang

    Steam tracking is shit. Cameras + AI are better and don’t require any sensors, bullshit accessories and annoying setup. Mixed Reality is really the way to go.

    • JJ

      you couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m not even gona waste my time explaining it to you.

  • Sandy Wich

    Of course the micro tracker was homebrewed in Japan. XD

  • Rlee

    Inside-Out tracking is the future. Not more of this BS.

    • Virtual

      Technically it is inside out. the sensors are onboard the tracker. They look for two points of reference.

      What you want is natural feature inside out tracking.

    • G-man

      not more laser accuracy? lol sod off.