Valve is increasingly opening its SteamVR Tracking technology—that which powers the HTC Vive‘s room-scale tracking—to the world. The royalty-free system requires no permission from Valve to be embedded and launched as part of third-party products. And now one of the final barriers to entry has been removed: anyone can buy the development hardware to begin building products with the tech.
Earlier this week Valve announced they would no longer require attendance of a $3,000 intro course in order to begin using SteamVR Tracking technology (formerly known as Lighthouse) for product development. The documentation and SDK would be made available online for free.
And now the final piece of the puzzle is here: formerly at the intro course participants were given SteamVR Tracking development kit, a curious hammer-looking device which had the essential SteamVR Tracking components inside. But now anyone can buy those components in the form of the official SteamVR Tracking HDK from Triad Semiconductor, a company who has worked alongside Valve to develop components used in SteamVR Tracking systems.
The SteamVR Tracking HDK starts at $595 and becomes cheaper as order scale increases, down to $500 for 100 units. Each kit contains the following components:
- Watchman Core Module iCE40
- The Watchman Core module supplies all of the processing power for a SteamVR tracked object.
- EVM Application Board
- The Application EVM board is a “batteries* included” companion to the Core module. This board breaks out the 80 pin interface connection of the Core module into user accessible ports. (*Note: Due to global regulations for shipping Lithium-Ion batteries, we are unable to provide battery packs at this time.)
- “Chiclet” Sensor Module
- The Chiclet Sensors are designed to be a small form factor TS3633 based optical sensor designed for placement anywhere inside a tracked object, even in very tight spaces. The schematic is identical to the TS3633-CM1 module but the overall PCB size is reduced to just 6mm by 10mm. The connection interface is a 4pin 0.5mm pitch flat flex connector for point to point signal routing back to the Sensor Breakout board.
- Sensor Breakout Board
- The Sensor Breakout provides the simple but valuable function of Fanning out the 100 pin connection interface of the Watchman Core module to 32 individual 4 pin connectors that may interface to the Chiclet flat flex connectors. This breakout board has 16 sensor connectors on the top side and an additional 16 sensor connectors on the bottom.
- Steam Wireless Dongle
- Four packs of 8 4in Flex Cables (32 cables total)
- 2.4 GHz Antenna with u.FL Cable
The first batch of SteamVR Tracking HDK kits is planned to ship in mid-April. Anyone can buy the hardware, but it should be noted that you do need to be a SteamVR Tracking Licensee (free) in order download the SDK required to program the components. You can find more info about that process at the official SteamVR Tracking website.
Now of course at ~$500/unit, it’s unrealistic to build a consumer product at those costs. The SteamVR Tracking HDK is meant only for prototyping and pre-production development. I asked Triad Semiconductor’s VP of Marketing & Sales, Reid Wender, about the process of going from the HDK to manufacturing a full-blown product at scale.
“[The] next step [following the prototyping phase] would be to take the schematic design (included for free in the SteamVR Tracking SDK) and layout a printed circuit board (PCB) optimized for your application. This would likely be a small rigid PCB for the core module features and some number of flexible PCBs (maybe 2, 4, or 6 depending on your Tracked Object physical design),” Wender said. “You would then send this design along with the electronics component list to a contract manufacturer (CM). The CM would […] procure the electronics and assemble them onto the PCB. You would receive a quotation of a finished factory cost for each assembly based on your production volume. Higher volume of course would mean lower price.”
While the SteamVR Tracking HDK hardware will work with the Base Stations which ship with the consumer HTC Vive (or can be bought standalone from the company), Valve plans to sell upgraded Base Stations directly later this year.
For those among us who aren’t hardware engineers, the forthcoming Vive Tracker is a standalone SteamVR Tracked device which can be attached to all manner of other objects to track them for various applications.