Facebook-owned Oculus VR just bought a company called Pebbles Interfaces, which specialises in motion-sensing technology that allows you to see your hands in a virtual world, and even interact with virtual objects and elements in real-time.
This is really good news because if you’ve ever tried a virtual reality headset, the first thing you do is look for your hands. Soon, you’ll be able to see them, along with the rest of your body, in the virtual world.
“At Pebbles Interfaces, we’ve been focused on pushing the limits of digital sensing technology to accelerate the future of human-computer interaction,” Pebbles Interfaces CTO Nadav Grossinger said in a statement on Thursday.
“Through micro-optics and computer vision, we hope to improve the information that can be extracted from optical sensors, which will help take virtual reality to the next level. We’ve always believed visual computing will be the next major platform in our lifetime, and we’re excited to join the Oculus team to achieve that vision for the future.”
The following video offers a glimpse of Pebbles Interfaces’ 3D gesture technology, check it out:
This is the second time Oculus has purchased a hand-tracking company within the last year: In December 2014 Oculus purchased Nimble VR, which makes cameras and software that tracks your movements and translates them into the virtual world instantaneously.
It’s not difficult to understand why Facebook and Oculus clearly want people to see their hands in VR. Virtual reality is all about immersion, so if you’re trying to make an experience feel as real as possible, people should see their actual hands and actual body in the game to feel like they’re actually in the game — like their actions have real consequences.
Several months ago, YouTube personality PewDiePie rigged up his Oculus Rift with the Leap Motion Controller, a basic device that senses your hands and gestures in 3D. The result was a bit rudimentary, but you can see the potential: As PewDiePie moved his head around, he saw his hands, and even his full body, as if he were in the real world.
Despite the desire to replace controllers with our own hands, virtual reality companies are still working hard to create quality input solutions that feel natural and intuitive. While Pebbles Interfaces’ tech is certainly advanced, it still has trouble detecting the fine movement of fingers, particularly when fingers touch each other or interlock (as seen below).
Right now, most virtual reality devices — the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, in particular — use some kind of motion controllers with touch-sensitive pads and triggers, which emulate things you might want to do with your hand: picking up and throwing objects, or pushing a button, or really any form of interaction with the virtual world. In the case of the Oculus Rift, Facebook-owned Oculus VR created the “Half Moon” prototype motion controllers that will launch soon after the Rift becomes available to consumers in early 2016.
But while motion-sensing solutions are clearly superior to physical controllers, we might not see Oculus eliminate its controllers in favour of using one’s own hands for another few years. Once the technology is ready, though, virtual reality will be even more desirable than it already is. VR has potential to improve nearly every major industry we have, but seeing yourself in virtual reality makes it even more engrossing, and much more difficult to leave.