Logitech is creating a new system called BRIDGE which aims to make it possible to bring a properly tracked keyboard into VR while showing the user’s hands for accurate typing. Though retail plans haven’t yet been announced, the company is offering a development kit to select developers.
VR promises to one day take computer productivity to the next level by letting us trade physical monitors for an infinite spatial desktop that unlocks our applications from flat windows. But with so much of today’s productivity computing reliant on keyboard input, and with VR headsets blinding users from the outside world, it can be difficult and frustrating to be productive for common tasks in VR, even if you’re an expert touch typist.
Logitech wants to solve that problem, and they’ve introduced what they’re calling Bridge, a system which works with the Vive Tracker to bring a properly scaled, modeled, and tracked keyboard into the virtual world to make typing in VR a breeze.
Bridge will be built into SteamVR, meaning it can potentially work with any VR application on the platform with little work from the developers themselves. However, if developers want, they can customize the keyboard model, possibly to make it better fit the theme of the VR experience or even to change the symbols on the keys to provide app-specific context.
Having a properly tracked model of your keyboard inside the VR environment is a good start, but you really also need to see your hands and fingers. Logitech thought of that too, and it appears that they’re employing the Vive‘s front-facing camera to extract the user’s hands and then clip the view to the outline of the keyboard model.
Logitech isn’t ready to sell Bridge, but the company says they’re offering 50 development kits and a beta version of their SDK to select developers (valued at $150). The company is accepting applications for the Bridge development kit through November 16th, and says that if there’s strong interest they’ll consider offering a larger quantity.
– – — – –
This isn’t the first time someone has tried to make typing easier in VR, but it’s one of the most high-tech we’ve seen so far. Other approaches we’ve seen have involved projecting into the VR space a section of an external camera view that aimed at your keyboard. That works relatively well for visual reference, but the result is a completely flat representation of your keyboard, most likely with a stretched perspective since it relies on a 2D camera. Not to mention, since your keyboard isn’t tracked, if you move it out of the projected view, it will get clipped out of the virtual world.
There’s been a number of attempts at effective text-input methods in VR using motion controllers and virtual keyboards, but nothing that’s come close to matching the speed of real keyboard input. Voice input is effectively employed by both the Oculus and Windows VR platforms, but mostly for voice-command rather than dictated text input.
Update (11/4/17): A prior version of this article indicated that the Logitech Bridge development kit would cost developers $150; Logitech reached out to clarify that the Bridge development kit is valued at $150, but is free of charge for developers chosen to receive it. The article has been updated to reflect this.