With Oculus’ annual Connect developer conference now less than 24 hours away, the VR community at large is saturated with excited speculation about what might be revealed. One thing we won’t be seeing at the event, says Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, is positional tracking on Samsung’s Gear VR headset.

Samsung Gear VR, the premier mobile VR headset, was created in conjunction with Oculus. Officially Gear VR is ‘Powered by Oculus’, though Samsung seems to maintain much of the ownership of the project as the unit has been marketed and sold through the mobile phone maker.

See Also: Latest Gear VR Ad Contrasts How Dumb You Look in VR with How Cool It Is Inside… And We’re Not Sure Why

gear-vr-galaxy-s6-s6-edge-samsung-virtual-reality-5While Gear VR provides a surprisingly compelling mobile VR experience, one of its notable missing features is positional tracking: the ability to track movement of the user’s head through 3D space. Positional tracking works with rotational tracking (which direction the head is turning) to move the virtual view such that it truly feels like you are inside the virtual space. Without positional tracking, you might try to lean forward in your chair but the world would not move correctly around you as it should.

The Oculus Rift DK2 was the first Rift development kit to introduce positional tracking, and it achieves this with the use of an IR-LED camera which looks at the headset to determine its movement. A camera, which sits away from the headset to observe its movements, would be considered a form of ‘outside-in’ positional tracking.

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A mobile VR experience, however, creates a new challenge for positional tracking: if the user could have the headset anywhere, a camera sitting away from the device couldn’t be used for positional tracking (without asking the user to carry one around wherever they go). A theoretically viable option then is what’s known as ‘inside-out’ positional tracking, which would make use of a camera mounted on the device itself to sense the positional movement of the user’s head.

It was suggested that inside-out positional tracking might be the next logical step for Gear VR, and rumors about a possible announcement of the feature have been swirling ahead of Oculus Connect. Those rumors can now rest in peace, as Oculus Founder Palmer Luckey has affirmed that there won’t be any such announcement at Connect.

See Also: Gear VR Review: Part One – Design Comparison to Oculus Rift DK2

Palmer Luckey
Palmer Luckey

Responding on the Oculus section of Reddit to a comment about the possibility of such an announcement Luckey writes, “In the spirit of killing overhype: Not going to happen. Our computer vision teams are doing some amazing work, but VR-grade inside-out tracking is not currently workable on mobile devices.”

Inside-out positional tracking has proven to be an especially difficult challenge, as it fundamentally relies on computer vision processing to assess the movement of the head through 3D space. Ideally, a camera on the headset would be able to recognize features in the environment around it, and use cues of environmental movement to determine the position of the head. Unfortunately, computer vision’s application in these sorts of scenarios is still very much a work in progress, and, according to Oculus, not yet capable of the fidelity of tracking necessary for a high quality VR experience. Maybe next year, folks.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • billpayer

    This and no pre-orders. What is the point.

    After millions of dollars and years of work, all Oculus has achieved is something marginally better than a cheap VR app I can run on an iphone.

    • Ben Lang

      Have you used Gear VR? Characterising it as “marginally better than a cheap VR app I can run on an iphone” is simply misleading, borderline dishonest.

      • billpayer

        Any modern phone with a 5-6″ screen + VR Player app + Homido headset (or any numerous chinese ones off ebay) = Gear VR

        Actually better since you aren’t locked to a particular phone manufacturer or content app.

        I’d trade positional tracking for no wires any day when it comes to immersion.

        • MasterElwood

          I only can assume you are joking or never experienced a gear VR yourself – because a VR experience in Gear VR is sooo much better than a Google Cardboard typ of experience – it’s not even in the same league.

          You can’t have a good mobile VR experience without a Low persistence display, real sensors – and total control over CPU/GPU.

        • Ben Lang

          I can only assume you’ve never had a chance to try Gear VR for yourself. If that’s the case, I won’t fault you at all for making a comparison between Cardboard-like devices and Gear VR (because they seem very similar conceptually).

          If, however, you have tried Gear VR and are still saying it is no better than Cardboard-like devices then I would say that you aren’t being objective.

        • Graeme Taylor

          You’re plain wrong. Gear VR, is a massive step ahead of cardboard type VR headsets. I actually assumed the same until I bought one. I even had three different (dive, Chinese one and google cardboard) to see if lenses made a difference (they kind of do). The unbelievable low latency and fov on the gear bring it right up to oculus pc standard, just minus positional tracking. You need to try gear I think.

    • JoeD

      Spoken like a true ignoramus.

  • billpayer

    re:”VR-grade inside-out tracking is not currently workable on mobile devices.”
    Palmer might want to check with Google Tango:

    • Ben Lang

      I’m sure Palmer is well aware of Tango. Google itself admits that the Tango dev kits are not optimized for VR, which would seem to me a fair indication that they also agree that it is not currently capable of “VR-grade” (an important qualification) inside-out tracking.


      • billpayer

        The video I linked to had real-time room space tracking.

        • MasterElwood

          You need (I quote Carmack here) “sub-millimeter accuracy at 60hz for effective positional tracking”

          Tango doesn’t provide that.

          • JoeD

            Funny, you quote that but a search on that specific John Carmack quote simply brings up this page and nothing more. In other words it’s highly dubious that he said that. Perhaps you misquoted him. And what exactly does “effective” mean in regards to VR? That seems like a highly subjective call. Currently we have shit in regards to positional tracking with mobile devices – instead we have to rely on gamepads to control movement within a mobile VR experience. So, it seems to me that even inch accuracy would be good enough compared to nothing – maybe not, but it’s a start. Are we going to wait until everything is absolutely perfect before we release something? That’s not how innovation works and Carmack should damn well know it. I’ll take sub-par positional tracking over no tracking any day .

        • Ben Lang

          Room space tracking is not necessarily accurate enough for VR. That’s why Palmer very specifically qualified his statement to include the words “VR-grade”.

  • qwepoi

    Just because Oculus says their positional tracking is not possible for mobile VR doesn’t mean other manufacturers are not be working on it. Lets hope someone comes up with a solution that can be incorporated on all other mobile-VR HMDs.

    • Ben Lang


    • MasterElwood

      They say it’s not possible YET. Carmack said multiple times that he thinks it will be possible in the future.

      They are working on it – they even bought a company specializing in it.

    • bitstars

      I would say it is possible, we are working on it and are very close to releasing something ;)

      • JoeD

        We who? The feathery-assed birds?

        • A REAL American Trump Voter✓

          Here’s a video of 9DOF IMU sensor technology that could be easily implemented right now in Mobile Galaxy Smartphones. Plus….. Galaxy S7 may be first Samsung phone to implement SRI (Stanford Research Institute) and Samsung’s Joint Venture IoM on mobiles.

          Which is Iris on the Move iris tracking for iris gesture control. With it you could zoom into something far away merely by naturally focusing on it. It could read whether you like something or not among many other things.

          Also Blink Gesture Control Technology is already coming to Gear VR update. But that’s only a small part of what IoM can do using Newest Galaxy’s Front Facing Selfie camera, inside of Gear VR!!! ……Palmer and Oculus are just jealous that’s all!!! xD

  • augure

    I don’t buy it. Depth Sensor with VSLAM is well enough for head tracking.

    They are continuing to kill VR exactly like it happened in the 90s and it saddens me.

    • bji

      Hyperbole much? Nobody is killing VR. The committment to VR with real dollars and real tech, along with a significant buzz that far eclipses anything ever mustered by VR in the past, combined with the fact that existing development prototypes are already good enough to provide experiences that have many people saying, “WOW”, is enough evidence that this VR go around is the real thing.

      Anyone trying to reduce current efforts to a repeat of the past, is just trying hard to be a naysayer.

      • A REAL American Trump Voter✓

        What’s really sad about Palmer’s statement and review writer’s ignorance of just Samsung is working on now is the fact they have something actually better in store!

        First off Samsung has an exclusive with SRI (Stanford Research Institute) IoM Iris on Move Technology. Now why is that so great and what does Iris Recognition have to do with 3D VR in the first place???

        Well how about Intuitive Iris Gesture Recognition and Control? Yes…. this is the use of the Selfie Camera in Galaxy Phones to track your iris movement as well as using it to interpret what you are seeing and responding to it intuitively. It will know whether you like what you’re seeing or not. Plus blink gestures and other iris patterns can control the environment…. like in real 3Demensional life.

        Look in the distance and it will zoom in to get a better look, just as you would do if you were there. You would have enhanced situational awareness that no other VR experience could duplicate without SRI’s IoM Technology!

        But….. that’s not all….. the next Gear VR Headset with have IMU 9 point Directional tracking. In fact it could utilize the phones own sensors to track your head movement right now. It’s just a matter of implementing the software and firmware to do this. Which is what Samsung aside from Oculus is working on right now.

        FACT is that PALMER and Oculus are upset….. about Samsung being able to take advantage of the newest sensor technology in their mobile phones right now. Which includes better front facing cameras for SRI IoM Iris on Move Technology!!! ……so let the haters and naysayers have at it. Samsung and SRI aren’t just some novice startup bought up by Facebook. Their R&D budget alone could buy out Oculus. All of Samsung put together is many times larger than Facebook and double the size of Apple even!!!

        • Anthony Kenneth Steele

          The best thing about the “zooming” (focusing) is saving processor power.

      • ribbitz

        “much” much?

  • jump jack

    there’s no need at all to fully process a 16mpixel image to get head position!
    Glueing some retroreflectig dots around the user, illuminating them by a 360° IR beam and sampling low res realtime images shouldn’t be so diffcult, IMHO.