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.

Closeup: Next-generation SteamVR Tracking Base Station is "Better in every way"

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.

Second-gen Lighthouse Chip Could Improve Tracking, Reduce Cost of HTC Vive 2

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.

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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."
  • Tom

    I wonder about calibration of one’s own prototype. I believe each sensor has to be in a precise position on the tracked object. I remember Alan Yates saying that Valve has a custom build “rig” that HTC is using to calibrate each headset in their factory. He said that if you would move any sensor on the headset just a fraction of a milimeter it could potentially mess up tracking of the whole headset.

    • NooYawker

      I guess you’ll have to find out through trial and error or take the $3000 course.

    • Surykaty

      I can do that with just the help of any of my small cnc mills… they can move in increments of tens of thousands of inch.. you can do the same with a sort of larger 3d printer or anything that has precision linear ways, ball screws and steppers/servos.

    • Luke Beno

      This is Luke from Triad. You are correct in that calibration is needed but the software to do this calibration is included with the package that is delivered via Steam when you become a SteamVR Tracking Licensee.

      The process is that you tell the HDK the nominal location and orientation of the sensors via a json file, and then there is a calibration sequence that you run through to present numerous different poses just by manually moving the object in space. The cal software then collects a large amount of data from the object and does a best fit to find the very precise location.

      I believe that the “rig” that you are referring to is used in production to automate this process and is especially needed for calibration of Basestations.

      I can Confirm that a “rig” is not needed for calibrating objects created with this HDK and that there is documentation included for how you would go about doing calibration.

  • Mark Lapasa

    Do I need to own a Vive in order to tinker with this technology?

    • Luke Beno

      Owning at least one basestation is a requirement but a complete Vive is just highly recommended so that you can experience/visualize your objects in VR. In theory you wouldn’t need a complete Vive.

  • Texmex

    Good guy Valve