Having done the core R&D for what would become the Vive controllers, Valve is continuing to iterate on VR input. The company’s new ‘Knuckles’ controllers are not so much ‘held’ as they are ‘worn’, offering users a natural grab and release motion without dropping the controller. Since their debut toward the end of 2016 at the company’s Steam Dev Days event, a Knuckles development kit is now shipping to select developers and brings ergonomic improvements over earlier prototypes.
Though there’s no open application to get your hands on the SteamVR Knuckles dev kit, the new controllers are now shipping to select developers. Among them is Cloudhead Games, one of the world’s most senior VR game studios, and an early VR collaborator with Valve. The studio posted pictures of their Knuckles dev kit delivery this week.
Right in time with those dev kit deliveries, last week Valve posted new details and developer information about the controllers; a video released shortly thereafter showed the controller’s key capability which is analog finger-sensing, allowing each finger to be tracked along its range of motion, hopefully providing a significant boost to hand Presence.
Valve introduced the Knuckles controllers toward the end of 2016. From that prototype version to the latest dev kit Valve has tweaked the controller quite significantly for improved ergonomics, Cloudhead confirmed via Twitter, calling the latest version “considerably more comfortable over all.”
From a comparison photo between the original prototype and the new Knuckles dev kit we can see that the main grip has been increased in size while the mounting mechanism has been simplified from a proto-glove with velcro to a piece of fabric with a cinch. The center button has changed from a sunken oval to a circle.
From the photo we can see that the latest Knuckles dev kit still has exposed photodiodes, the sensors that cover the controller and allow it to be tracked through space; like the production Vive controllers today, we’d expect to see those encased in IR-transparent plastic by the time the consumer model is nailed down to protect the sensors from damage.
Another photo from Cloudhead shows the evolution from some of the earliest SteamVR controllers to the Knuckles dev kit.
Cloudhead games also confirmed that the Knuckles controller is backward compatible with existing SteamVR Tracking basestations (ie: those that ship today with the Vive).
Valve hasn’t yet announced when the controller will make its way to consumers or what they might cost. Though Valve plans to sell SteamVR Tracking basestations directly, our guess is that the company will leave it up to SteamVR partners like HTC to manufacture the Knuckles controllers en mass; with LG also working on its own SteamVR headset, we presume the controller design will be open for either company to draw from.