Valve has lifted the veil somewhat on its Knuckles controllers, first revealed as a prototype last October at the company’s annual Steam Dev Days conference. In a blog post today, Valve showed off some specs of the Knuckles dev kit alongside a button-map of the device, revealing the controllers will have multiple capacitive sensors to allow for some basic 5-finger tracking.

Like HTC Vive’s motion controller, Knuckles is positioned in 3D space by Steams’s Lighthouse tracking system, but Valve has designed its prototype motion controller to offer a greater sense of presence than its ‘closed hand’ predecessor. By creating a device that clamps onto the back of your hand, Valve hopes to let users ‘let go’ of the controller while in use, allowing virtual objects to be grabbed and thrown naturally.

As an ‘open hand’ controller, Knuckles will also hone in on virtual hand presence by including a number of capacitive sensors, detailed today in a developer blog post. Located in different areas on the controller, these sensors, much like the ones in Ouclus Touch, will help detect the state of the user’s hands by sensing when your finger in on a button, or particular part of a controller.

Capacitive sensors are under each physical button including the trigger surface, outer face button surface, inner face button surface, and system button surface. There are also separate arrays of capacitive sensors in the controller’s grip, which is designed to enable grasp and un-grasp actions and determine which finger is resting where.

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While this isn’t what you’d call ‘full’ finger tracking, which would ideally involve a way to calculate exactly where your fingers are at all times, the Knuckles controller is promising to provide a more basic tracking solution that can tell if your fingers are resting on discrete parts of the controller, like sitting on a button or curling around the grip. To keep the finger motions from looking “too mechanical,” Valve recommends devs perform some smoothing when rendering virtual hands for the controller.

It’s not ideal, but besides aiming to provide better hand presence, it also hopes to make social VR a little more human by allowing users to show natural hand positions.

image courtesy Valve

It also has a handy strap-tightening system that lets you fit the controller snug, and release with a single hand.

Some is sure to change before commercial release of the Knuckles controllers. Developers currently need to calibrate finger tracking, as dev units provide “very poor” tracking when operated in an uncalibrated state. Valve says however the need for an explicit calibration procedure “should be considered a temporary measure that will only be required for these dev-units.” Dev kits currently have a 3 hour battery life that draw current from a rechargeable 500mA battery, charging via a USB micro-B connector.

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  • RealJoyCon

    It’s more than just on and off. It can also detect curl.

    • Xilence

      This is great! The Vive 2 is going to use this most certainly.

    • Xilence

      This is great! The Vive 2 is going to use this most certainly.

    • You’re right. I was thrown off by this bit:

      “Each finger axis returns a curl value *between* zero and one, where zero indicates that the finger is pointing straight out and one indicates that the finger is fully curled around the controller. For rendering finger motions to the user, it is recommended to perform some smoothing to keep the finger motions from looking too mechanical.”

      I unplugged the word “between” from the sentence when reading it, assuming it was an 0/1 state too, when in reality it should allow for fractional values. I have updated for clarity.

    • Simon Wood

      It would be interesting to know whether the Cap-Touch controller chip they use includes the proximity function (some do). I imagine some clever shaping of the sensor pad could help improve the curl linearity.
      Also note the “curl” value is being reported as an axis, if it’s like the trigger axis (on the Watchman controller) this will also be mapped onto the button bit-field.

    • Simon Wood

      It would be interesting to know whether the Cap-Touch controller chip they use includes the proximity function (some do). I imagine some clever shaping of the sensor pad could help improve the curl linearity.
      Also note the “curl” value is being reported as an axis, if it’s like the trigger axis (on the Watchman controller) this will also be mapped onto the button bit-field.

  • Max Cheung

    now i can point my middle finger to others in VR

    • You already could using oculus touch. :)

      • Meema Tree

        you can do these gestures with the normal vive controller aswell. I think he means actually making the gesture with his actual hands
        .

  • Sponge Bob

    this is DOA

    • David Herrington

      why would you say that?

      • Sponge Bob

        cause I know :-)

        • David Herrington

          Sorry, I don’t get your meaning…

      • mesonw

        I reckon he means the Dead or Alive series could use some custom hand movements using this ;)

    • Dotcommer

      Hahahah, omg, you’re STILL trolling these forums? Bro, give it a break! All you do is shit-talk with out proving anything. You’re useless to conversation.

      • Sponge Bob

        yea bro

        i do shit talk here

        and I do real stuff elsewhere without talking much

  • Sponge Bob

    this is DOA

  • George Vieira IV

    3 hour battery life? That seems a bit short.

  • Lucidfeuer

    As awful as the first prototype put it to be. I guess it’s going to be Oculus Touch and Nolo for me.

    • Sponge Bob

      Did you really try Nolo controllers ?

      Are they any good ?

    • Sponge Bob

      Did you really try Nolo controllers ?

      Are they any good ?

    • NooYawker

      I looked up Nolo… they look like PS controllers.

      • Sponge Bob

        except they are not…

        cant wait to tear one down

    • NooYawker

      I looked up Nolo… they look like PS controllers.

  • Lucidfeuer

    As awful as the first prototype put it to be. I guess it’s going to be Oculus Touch and Nolo for me.

  • Vrdeluxe

    I liked oculus touch but trying to throw grenades with them is hopeless. Its like trying to throw sticky bombs

  • Vrdeluxe

    I liked oculus touch but trying to throw grenades with them is hopeless. Its like trying to throw sticky bombs

    • Get Schwifty!

      it gets easier with a bit of practice, you have to get over the fear of throwing the controllers themselves and just sort of relax with them and let your brain fill in the action and a sense of weight. Just make sure you have the strap on _just_in_case_ :)

    • It actually depends on the game and the way each developer has implemented the controls in my experience. With some games when you throw something it seems to stick to your hand and often goes off in the wrong direction when it is thrown, and with other games it’s much more responsive and always seems to go basically where you expect it too. Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality is a good example of a game where throwing stuff just feels good (responsive and accurate). Superhot, on the other hand, while being an immensely fun game, seems to have pretty terrible throwing code, such that stuff never seems to go quite where you want it to. So, if it feels like you’re struggling to throw a grenade in a particular game, I’d actually be inclined to blame the developer of that game.

  • Sponge Bob

    Don’t get too excited here :-)

    Just keep in mind that most photo diodes must see BOTH lighthouses for this to work
    So… its gonna be an ugly piece regardless

    • Caven

      Since when? I once was doing some development testing with the Vive, and started getting frustrated that the controller would intermittently start acting funny when I was facing certain directions. It turns out that one of my Lighthouses had gotten unplugged, and I was only noticing a problem when my body blocked the controller from seeing the sole remaining Lighthouse. If I hadn’t had a reason to face directly away from the Lighthouse that was still plugged in, I wouldn’t have realized there was a problem. The IMUs in the controller worked well enough that I was fooled into thinking I still had (somewhat buggy) 360-degree coverage.

      • Sponge Bob

        that only works for fast motions like shooting games

        try slow slow motion precise positioning (typing ?) with IMU only

        and there is a good reason they have 2 lighthouses besides occlusion

        • Caven

          Well, of course IMUs wouldn’t work for extended precision movement by themselves, otherwise there would never have been a need for the tracking systems implemented by Oculus and HTC/Valve.

          Anyway, the development testing I was doing was for testing a walking locomotion system I’ve been developing. There were no fast movements involved, and no actual gameplay. Just testing walking around in a virtual environment. The controller wasn’t being moved any faster than your arms move when walking. With just one Lighthouse running I was still able to get reliable tracking in more than a 270-degree arc. Even with intermittent occlusion the IMUs were doing their job well enough that the occlusion wasn’t reliably causing tracking to fail.

          Yes, there are reasons other than occlusion avoidance for running multiple Lighthouses, but the controllers aren’t going to suddenly have major tracking problems just because they can only see one Lighthouse. The controllers have to be able to work well with just one Lighthouse, otherwise two Lighthouses wouldn’t be enough for proper coverage.

          • Sponge Bob

            wrong

            tracking with 1 lighthouse is extremely anisotropic with large jitter in z direction – several cm not mm
            especially for small controller at larger distance

            google alan yates’ (creator of lighthouse) talk on hackaday

          • J.C.

            You’re clearly trying to crap on a device and ignoring that a large portion of the visitors to this board HAVE a Vive, and tracking is spot-on, even with only one lighthouse.

            Is this a new “Vive sucks, Oculus rules!” tactic?

            It looks like a neat controller, if it tracked terribly they’d have already put the big ring back on top.

          • RFC_VR

            i agreed, the tracking is very robust. in my domestic universe of 4.1M x 2.5M I could stick my head (wearing the HMD) out of my window – why not?

            The screen would grey out as tracking was lost, pull my head back inside and tracking instantly re-established. Plenty of random movement and crouching down, jumping about, dancing,
            watch someone really flying in Blueshift!! and controllers being tipped/rotated in Tiltbrush, all very solid, cannot report tracking issues.

            Taking it out of domestic into “room scale plus” showed how effective it actually was in terms of reliability during extended play sessions, and controller / HMD accuracy

          • Sponge Bob

            you still don’t get it

            yes, tracking is robust but with just one basestation the error in z durection grows as a square of distance while x and y position erros grow linearly
            it’s all masked by IMUs of course
            slow motion precise positioning at 5 m – try that out

          • Caven

            I listened to the presentation twice and didn’t hear him say anything about specific numbers regarding jitter. Do you have a timestamp for the presentation I can reference?

            As for independent testing of the tracking accuracy, Oliver Kreylos (a VR researcher who RoadToVR has reported on before) did tracking experiments with Lighthouse, and had this to say about jitter when using just one Lighthouse:

            “With only a single base station, the noise distribution turns highly anisotropic, with 0.3mm laterally to the remaining base station, and 2.1mm in the distance direction.”

            2.1mm is a far cry from your claim of several cm. Granted, his setup had the controller sitting stationary in the middle of his play space where the Lighthouses are ordinarily 4 meters apart. This puts his controller at a little more than 2 meters way (taking into account the upward angle to the Lighthouse). So if we’re assume that every doubling of distance quadruples the inaccuracy, then at 4 meters he should be seeing 1.2mm inaccuracy laterally, and 8.4mm in the distance direction. Those numbers are still under 1cm each. That 8.4mm number is quite interesting, because I have a somewhat larger tracking area than Oliver Kreylos does, with a distance between Lighthouses at about 5.4 meters. Doing my own experiment, I was able to get similar results. I’ll post the experiment as a separate reply.

          • Caven

            Rather than replicate Oliver’s setup, I decided to place place both of my controllers less than 1 meter away from one of my Lighthouses, which put the controllers nearly 5 meters away from the farther Lighthouse (more than 5 meters when accounting for the height difference). I wanted to compare dual-Lighthouse tracking versus single-Lighthouse tracking at the same time, so I took a folding chair and positioned it above one controller so that both controllers could see the farther Lighthouse, but only one controller could see the closer Lighthouse which was more-or-less overhead.

            During setup, the controllers were powered off. I wanted to ensure that the IMU could not contribute any information regarding the initial placement of the controllers. With setup complete, I powered on the controllers. I found that in terms of accuracy, the controller was about 1cm out of position relative to the other controller. (I had them touching head-to-head to make positioning errors easier to see and quantify.) In terms of precision, the jitter was visible, but mild. It was definitely under 5mm, and closer to about 2-3mm. Several times I blocked the controller from the view of the other Lighthouse until it drifted, then vanished from view in VR, then allowed it to again see a single Lighthouse. Every time, with just one Lighthouse for reference, the controller was able to return to the same position in VR.

            What I find particularly interesting about this experiment is that it was something of a worst-case scenario. The controller was pointing sideways relative to the Lighthouse, so many of the sensors on the ring were obscured from view. Also, the diagonal leg of the chair was very close to the controller and had glossy paint, which could have introduced some errors cause by reflected laser light. Even then, accuracy was good enough that without the other controller in close proximity, it would have been difficult to recognize the offset. It would be interesting to repeat the experiment with a non-glossy barrier, and with the controller aimed toward the Lighthouse.

            Based on the jitter, two Lighthouses is definitely better than one, but even a single Lighthouse at 5 meters produces tracking results no worse than a PSVR Move controller at much closer range.

          • Sponge Bob

            Thanks for posting your results, dude

            btw PSVR has a notoriously bad tracking

            still, the error in z direction grows as a square of distance while error in x and y direction grows only linearly.
            I am not sure at what distance this becomes really noticeable when you try to do something like precise drawing in 3D
            But I assume at 5 m you keep about 1 or 2 mm precision with 2 lighthouses and with just one lighthouse the precision in z-direction will be (much?) worse than 1 cm
            1 cm precision is not adequate for precise positioning in VR productivity app like 3D drawing
            But I do agree that Lighthouse tracking is much superior to both Rifts (multiple) cameras and PSVR

    • crim3

      Don’t worry. It works and will work fine with only one base station at sight. Speculations about lighthouse tracking performance ended more than a year ago. Now it is in our houses.

      • Sponge Bob

        Wrong answer

        try small controller at 4 m distance from lighthouse with another lighthouse off

        • no dude, they only need to see one.

          • Sponge Bob

            this is just math dude
            cant argue with math
            but they did a good job fooling you with IMU merged data
            IMU – not tracking, repeat after me

          • dude, block the line of sight to one of your lighthouses, and tell us your findings. as far as I have experienced, you only need a single lighthouse for basic tracking.

  • Sponge Bob

    Don’t get too excited here :-)

    Just keep in mind that most photo diodes must see BOTH lighthouses for this to work
    So… its gonna be an ugly piece regardless

  • Thong Phan

    So we can’t really rely on throwing motions right? Seems like it would still fly off your hand.

    Also..come on…Micro USB? USB-C all the things!

    • Andrew Jakobs

      the thing isn’t out yet, so maybe by then it will be USB-C.. but then again, not a lot of people already have USB-C cables and such.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      the thing isn’t out yet, so maybe by then it will be USB-C.. but then again, not a lot of people already have USB-C cables and such.

      • Lionel Townsend

        They include a USB charging cable with the steam controller why not with a five controller? We can hope.

        • Andrew Jakobs

          I must admit the only advantage of USB-C is you don’t have to worry about how to insert the cable, but especially for charging I don’t see any reason why they should opt for USB-C (not that I’m saying they shouldn’t), as long as the opposite connector is the regular sized USB connector.

          • Tomas Sandven

            Can’t type C also let them charge the controllers faster than you could with micro-USB?

          • Yes, but if the battery is small eg. 500mAh it doesn’t matter because normal USB is enought.

      • It’s growing. A number of phones are starting to use USB-C. And the Nintendo Switch uses it.

      • Juurikas

        Micro-USB B prolem is that the cable ain’t rated high for plug/eject. After couple hundred times the jack is already loose. The plug doesn’t either like many times, it was more like a 500-1000 times of plug or eject before it got too loose.

        But hey, at least it ain’t a SATA cable that is rated only for 25 connections!

        • Andrew Jakobs

          Don’t know, still haven’t had that problem with any of my Micro-USB devices (mice, phones, headphones and some other various electronic gadgets).

    • David Herrington

      I’m unsure how hard you are throwing but these look pretty secure. Also, I wouldn’t write them off until trying them out.

    • It’s jus a Dev kit…

    • NooYawker

      It’s just for charging. There isn’t much data transferring going on outside the rare firmware update.

      • USB-C isn’t just faster, it’s also required to support the high-power delivery of USB 3.1/USB-PD. ie: The reason that the Nintendo Switch can get 39W from a USB port.

        Using USB-C would allow for much much faster charging of the batteries in the controllers.

  • Tom B, The Game Attorney

    Baby steps…

  • David Herrington

    I remember Denny Unger saying that there was something else about these other than capacitive touch that he couldn’t talk about… wonder what it could be?

    http://www.roadtovr.com/impressions-valves-new-vr-controller-prototype-denny-unger/

    I wish GameXplain would do a breakdown on these photos.

  • Well, it looks like the early unit that it is but it has some interesting ideas for sure.

  • VR Games For

    Love it! can’t wait to see what type of interactions developers are going to bring to games with this new controller.

  • Alexandre Lamarre

    Wouldn’t it be much less obstructve to simply attach the controller to a solid wrist clamp instead of that hand clamp?

    • on the contrary. If you attach it to a wrist then you need to actuate it off the two axes of your wrist. It’s completely impractical that way.

  • Michigan Jay Sunde

    JUST the auto-tightening strap makes this a clear win. Change the Vive 1 bundles to include these instead of the wands ASAP, or make them standard with Vive 2 at a minimum. This also means most early adopters will have a second set of controllers to use as tracked objects if they like for mixed-reality, local asymmetric multiplayer or for tracking objects. We need way, way more 3d-printable and bootstrapped vive-wand mounting accessories. Think keyboards, controllers, chairs, shoes, etc.

  • andywade

    I don’t understand. Perhaps I am misinformed, but it’s my understanding that full finger tracking was invented some time in the 1980s with “data glove” technology. Why have a controller at all?