HTC earlier this month revealed a 6DOF controller dev kit for the Vive Focus standalone headset. New details have emerged about the device this week.

When HTC revealed the Vive Focus 6DOF controller dev kit earlier this month, the company wasn’t ready to share details. This week at XRDC in San Francisco, the company spoke more about the dev kit and noted that between the Vive Focus and other Vive Wave powered headsets, consumers are likely to see a number of different 6DOF controller tracking technologies accompanying different headsets.

HTC’s Viveport President, Rikard Steiber, said during a presentation today that the Vive Focus 6DOF controller dev kit uses a combination of ultrasonic tracking and IMUs to track the user’s hands. Ultrasonic tracking systems use soundwaves at frequencies above the audible human range for triangulation, typically using a series of receivers to identify differences in timing between ultrasonic sounds emitted by the tracked object.

Steiber noted that the system’s tracking field of view is 180 degrees horizontally and 140 degrees vertically, and that it’s capable of “high accuracy” up to one meter from the headset.

While the Vive Focus ships with a 3DOF controller, the 6DOF controller dev kit includes two new controllers and a large module which is mounted to the headset. US developers can sign up to receive one here.

We haven’t had a chance to try the controller tracking system yet, but aren’t entirely surprised to find that it’s based on ultrasonic tracking considering that it’s among the options offered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon VRDK, which we understand Vive Focus to be based on.

Ultrasonic tracking is not new by any means; we’ve seen VR trackers based on the technology in recent years, and the tech was employed for similar purposes long before the modern era of VR. Pico Neo was one of the first modern standalone headsets we’ve seen using ultrasonic tracking for 6DOF input, though our hands-on with the headset earlier this year didn’t inspire much confidence in the controller tracking.

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Generally speaking, the capabilities of ultrasonic tracking have been considered insufficient as a head-tracking solution for high-end VR headsets, though hand-tracking is less sensitive to latency and inaccuracy, and could prove effective with the right implementation.

Steiber made a point to say that among headsets running Vive Wave (like Vive Focus), there will likely be several different 6DOF hand tracking solutions employed, but from a developer standpoint the platform aims to work seamlessly with all of them.

While the Vive Focus is available in China as a consumer ready product, in the US and elsewhere it’s still a developer kit only. With hand input still in flux, it seems it may remain that way for some time still.

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  • MosBen

    How high of frequencies are we talking? Is this something that would bother pets?

    • Luke

      good question.

    • Downvote King

      Colloquially, “Ultrasound” can refer to frequencies that reach above the standard human hearing range of 20 Khz, but functionally ultrasound usually refers to frequencies in the Mhz, far above the range of a dog’s 45 Khz.

    • Caven

      If it bothers pets, that’s almost a selling point. It’s amazing how often animals insist on getting underfoot during a VR session.

  • mellott124

    Sounds like Nolo tracking.

  • Yah, my first thought with Ultrasonic tracking is “Fail”. Much like magnetic tracking the STEM controllers were trying to use, both technologies have a track record of being unreliable, mostly due environmental noise.

    Magnetic sensors can be tripped by surrounding electronics from almost any source, from a shorting battery to leaky sparkplugs. Sound is just as bad, as interference patterns via random acoustics can generate waves of any frequency. There’s a good reason Valve focused on optical tracking, tech which eventually worked it’s way into all current headsets.

    Most living creatures have eyes for a reason. Optically tracking is just better. Bats do well with high frequencies, but they use their brains to get around random interference. Unless they have some VERY good AI, ultrasonic tracking will never be a good solution.

    (also, most bats have eyes too)

    • Downvote King

      I think the best solution may be a combination of optical tracking and ultrasonic. While in view, inside-out optical tracking works fantastic, and could be used to further calibrate a parallel ultrasonic tracking system that takes over when the controllers leave view of the optical sensors.

      • Charles

        Exactly. “Sensor fusion” is always a good idea. Living creatures do the equivalent of “sensor fusion” – combining multiple types of sensing to create a more accurate and reliable model of the world around them.

        • Downvote King

          True, all of our senses work together to create a view of the world, even in unexpected ways like echolocation. I guess using ultrasonic to keep track of controllers when they are out of view would be kind of like adding proprioception to an HMD!

    • What happened was they saw this tech on the spec for the chip and said, “Hey, why not?”. And the chip manufacturer put the tech on there because it didn’t cost them anything significant and they said, “Hey, why not?”.

      This all comes down to a cascade of bad decision within corporate structure. If any of the execs involved had asked JUST ONE engineer, NONE of this would have happened. Instead the decision was made by ignorant boardroom members, far out of earshot of anyone who knew anything about the tech.

      The saddest part is the idiots that let this all happen will probably get raises and drop the failure in the laps of the development team who tried to make this poor idea work. HTC has been on a downward spiral, and this is an indication that tread will only continue in the future.

  • fuyou2

    I had experience with 6dof Ultrasonic tracking many many years ago, not sure if anyone remembers it was called the owl3d tracker, it was good but very susceptible to wind, I remember you can blow slightly in the air which changes air-pressure and messes up the tracking.

  • The choice of ultrasound is something quite original… let’s see how they will perform

    • Andrew Jakobs

      Uhm, it’s not really quite original, the nintendo powerglove already did it.

      • Laurence Nairne

        And the Pico Neo that Ben mentions in the article.

  • Andrew Jakobs

    Missed oportunity, only 180 degrees tracking, should have been 360..

    • jj

      right!?

      • Andrew Jakobs

        and left, and back and front ;)

    • kakek

      Could have … but as a WMR user, with a tracking of less than 180, I can assure you that it’s far less problematic than you would think.

      Very few movement are done out of your field of view, and for those aproximative tracking is more than enough.

      For instance, reaching for a gun at you belt or behind your back works very well.
      Aiming with a bow kinda works, and I thinks with 180 tracking it wouldn’t be a problem at all.

  • My dog might not appreciate this

  • JesuSaveSouls

    I imagine the focus will have mostly a vast unlimited store of software.My mirage solo is very sleek and innovative but limited to daydreams small library.Though having games like need for speed exclusive to it and eclipse it’s worth it.