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HTC to Bring Hand and Finger Tracking to the HTC Vive Pro

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At the World Conference on VR Industry, HTC just announced that it would be bringing hand and finger tracking to the Vive Pro.

For a while now, we’ve been thinking that the Vive could do more with its cameras. These cameras allow the headset to better understand the space around it and to prevent accidental collisions with walls and furniture as a result. But beyond that, they haven’t been used for much.

Now, the company intends on bringing greater fidelity to its interactive component by allowing users to pick up, prod, and punch objects in the game world using their actual fingers. This will work ‘natively’, meaning that no additional peripheral (such as a Leap Motion) would need to be in any way added or attached to the device.

This is possible thanks to the use of two camera modules, spaced apart so as to provide depth information in a similar manner to human eyes. Coincidentally, this is also how mobile phones with dual lens set-ups are able to provide ‘bokeh effects’ by separating background and foreground elements and applying a subtle blur effect to the former.

A demonstration shown at the conference saw a user moving their hands in and out, and then moving their fingers independently while each was recreated in wireframe on a screen located just behind them.

For now, users need to use the included controllers, which can simulate grasping and other actions, and which could also be used to simulate a gun, a fishing rod, a sword, or a range of other implements.

Implications

Prior to this unveiling, the only way to accurately track hand and finger movement like this was through the use of a Leap motion. This worked by using an infrared sensor, which could measure the distance from individual fingers. The Leap Motion could be used with a laptop to allow for air gesture inputs, or even taped to the front of a HTC Vive or Oculus Rift. Its limitations however lay with the fact that one finger could ‘occlude’ another – blocking its position from the Leap’s sight.

The same issue could also be present for the HTC Vive, and in the demo, the user was only seen holding their hands up directly in front of their face. If this were a limit for the technology, then it would seriously reduce the number of potential applications – though this is not to say that it wouldn’t have some interesting uses even then.

It’s also worth noting that if this technology is only available for the Vive Pro, then it would create some division between users and what they could expect to experience.

What kinds of applications could we see with finger tracking? Obvious options include things such as inputs – where users could type words out on a keyboard, or even play musical instruments. Likewise, games could allow for much more precise interaction; users could engage in tasks require significantly greater dexterity, such as picking up chopsticks. This could have fun gameplay opportunities, while also making interactions more intuitive and immersive.

It would also be interesting to see how Oculus might react. The two headset manufacturers have been embroiled in something of an arms race, with Oculus racing to catch up to the Vive’s room-scale tracking, and HTC struggling to offer its hardware at a competitive price.

Until now, the Rift had the edge with its ‘Touch controllers’. This could very well change the game all over again.

Good news for us – as its this kind of competition that drives competition and ultimately leads to better experiences for users.