Ahead of the Vive Tracker’s consumer launch later this year, HTC plans to send 1,000 units to developers to kickstart an ecosystem of accessories and content which can make use of the device. New developer documentation details the ins and outs of the Tracker.

Developers and accessory-makers looking to make use of the Vive Tracker can get a head start by perusing the HTC Vive Tracker Developer Guidelines document that has recently been made public. Inside, we learn more about the Tracker’s capabilities, including what kind of data can be sent wirelessly from the Tracker to the PC, and the existence of an additional dongle which is needed for the device to be tracked.

htc vive tracker documentation (1)An overview of the Vive Tracker reveals that the device’s power button is cleverly hidden as part of the central Vive logo, along with the rest of the device’s functions.

vive-tracker-pogo-pins

Input/Output

We also learn more detail about what data the Tracker can send to the host PC through its Pogo pin and USB interfaces. Using the six Pogo pin connections on the bottom of the device, an attached accessory can emulate the same controls as a Vive controller, allowing the accessory to send data like trigger pulls and button presses (for things like shooting and reloading inside the game). Emulation of all inputs on the Vive controller appears to be supported, including sending X and Y coordinates to simulate the location of a user’s finger on the controller’s trackpad, and varying levels of trigger pull sensitivity. It appears too that the Tracker can receive and relay rumble commands from the computer which could be used to activate haptics on the third-party accessory.

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Hands-on: HTC's New Vive Tracker Makes VR More Immersive With Specialized Accessories

It seems that arbitrary data beyond emulation of the Vive controller inputs can also be sent via the MicroUSB connection, which would open the door to more specialized usage.

Design Recommendations for Max Performance of Wireless Dongle

As we understand it, the Vive controllers today connect wirelessly to the Vive headset and then their data is sent to the computer via the headset’s tether, and vice versa. The Vive Tracker, it turns out, will not use the same system, but will rather rely on its own wireless dongle (USB 2.0) to relay its tracking data and accessory I/O.

htc vive tracker documentation (5)

In order to keep the dongle operating at maximum throughput and avoid tracking issues due to lost data, the Vive Tracker Developer Guidelines document says accessory makers should design their products in a way that avoids bringing any non-essential metal within 30mm of the Tracker’s antenna, seen highlighted in red above.

Field of View and Tracking Considerations

htc vive tracker documentation (3)The document specifies that the Tracker has a 270 degree field of view (for sensing the SteamVR Tracking basestations); the ‘bottom’ part of the device eschews sensors with the expectation that it will be mounted to something. In order to avoid blocking any additional field of view of the Tracker, it’s recommended that accessories protrude as little as possible outside of the device’s inherent blindspot.

Furthermore, the document specifies that accessories should be made with non-reflective material to maintain maximum tracking performance, presumably to avoid reflections from the tracking lasers which could confuse the device or even the Vive headset while in use.

Attaching the Tracker to Accessories Won’t Cause Harm (hopefully)

Thankfully, for all of us who plan on using these accessories, a section of the document specifies that, “the user should not be physically harmed while attaching or detaching the tracker. ” If this hadn’t been in there, who knows what harm might have come to us!

SEE ALSO
HTC Plans to Certify Accessories Approved for Use with Vive Tracker

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There’s plenty more gritty technical detail contained in the document. If you’re a developer, you may want to dig in further. If you’re not a developer, you’ll probably want to know that the Vive Tracker is due to launch in Q2 of 2017 and hasn’t yet been priced.

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  • Sam Illingworth

    I’m not sure I see the benefit of this over building the sensors directly into their products, assuming there’s an API they can talk to to send and receive data, unless this will be substantially cheaper, or Oculus intend to release something that would connect to the same hardpoint. As a user I’d rather not have to keep moving my tracker from one device to another.

    • Caven

      A standalone tracker is more useful for researchers or small-scale developers, which is important since VR is still a small, experimental industry. I do agree that for developers with deep pockets, it would be better to integrate the sensors directly into the products.

      • Sam Illingworth

        Yeah, that makes sense.

    • G-Guy

      Easier and quicker to develop for. Cheaper for both developers and consumers since developers don’t have to integrate sensors directly into their hardware and consumers won’t have to pay extra for the integrated sensors – and only just once for the tracker since it’s swappable .

    • iUserProfile

      I guess it’s cheaper for the consumer if they can mount their tracker to diffrent devices instead of buying the same number of devices with integrated trackers.

      • Sam Illingworth

        Yeah, if the price is high enough that makes sense. I’m hoping it’s not though. Has there been any word on that?

        • Bryan Ischo

          Well it’s not just the tracking diodes or whatever. It’s all of the hardware for sending wireless signals out, and it’s also the battery that powers all of that. Not requiring any of that for the tracked device seems like it would reduce the cost of those devices considerably.

          Some devices get maximum benefit (those that have no additional controls within them, and thus need no battery of their own and no other electronics hardware – think baseball bats, swords, tennis rackets, simple guns without force feedback, etc), some get less benefit when they have to double up on their own internal battery and some additional electronics), but all must be reduced in cost as a result of not having to include some of the more complex and sophisticated parts.

    • iop90cwl

      I’d also imagine that it’s a lot cheaper to simply make a plastic gun with a few buttons you can plug into one shared puck than to build a bunch of photosensors into the device and add proprietary wireless capabilities.

    • for business, I can agree. For makers/hobbists/small companies it’s great because it’s cheap and works out of the box

    • SHunter

      Vive/Valve makes money on each one sold.

    • psuedonymous

      “assuming there’s an API they can talk to to send and receive data”

      I’m not sure such an API exists at this point. Even months after Valve started their series of $3000 in-person training courses, no information has become available on integrating non-Valve products with Lighthouse. No source code, no speciications, not even a general description of system capability or design guidelines. Not really what you;d expect from a supposedly open system.
      With the timing of the ‘Vive tracker’ unveiling and products intended to use it, and the total lack of people who have been on said course describing anything about it, it’s possible the training course was not for integrating raw sensors, but on integrating this puck.

    • David A Bacher

      To use an example, PlayStation Move has a controller. They also have a plastic gun that the controller can snap into. The Controller has to be FCC certified, UL listed, has a lithium ion battery that could explode if it isn’t handled correctly.

      However, the gun is just a piece of plastic shaped like a gun — it has no electronics at all, and so it can’t cause any interference and it’s basically just a random piece of plastic. No certification is required for that.

      In HTC’s case, there’s the ports on the tracker that “could” connect to electronics, but even then — the certification is likely easier. It’s not my specialty (it was my Dad’s), but basically you’ve got the cost aspect for the sensors and for the transmitter, and then you also have the cost aspect for certification. If a significant percentage of accessories can get by with no certification at all, that can drop cost a lot.

      • Sam Illingworth

        Ah, good point!

  • Very interesting article!

  • Adrian

    The restricted FOV (which could make some positions of a gun invisible, say, near the edge of a playspace) makes me wonder if it would be possible for accessory makers to embed some additional sensors (i.e. no other significant parts) in the accessory and feed the input from those to the tracker through the connector. Not sure that Valve would allow for that, but it would extend the possibilities.