John Carmack sheds light on mobile position tracking, relationship with Google

by Ian Hamilton • September 26th, 2015

When John Carmack gets out of Oculus Connect this week one of the three “major directions” he’s considering spending his considerable brainpower on is using stereo inside out cameras to solve positional tracking on a mobile headset. Solving the problem remains one of the great prizes of the VR industry as it would enable a wireless VR experience where you could move around a room in a virtual environment untethered to a PC.

Hope for the technology to be unveiled this week was so high Rift creator Palmer Luckey had to set expectations by saying “VR-grade inside-out tracking is not currently workable on mobile devices.”

Carmack, the chief technology officer at Oculus, elaborated on the problem in an impromptu talk he gave in the lobby outside Oculus Connect session theaters, surrounded by a semi-circle of interested VR enthusiasts.

“It does not look good for making an inside out tracking system that doesn’t consume a whole lot of battery power,” Carmack said. “We have like 30 computer vision experts at Oculus from the different companies we’ve acquired and none of them want to just go solve this problem. They’re all working on their esoteric, kind of researchy things while this is a problem that I want solved right now. I wish somebody had spent all of this last year on it.”

In true Carmack fashion his talk was dense and filled with tons of interesting tidbits, including Facebook’s relationship with Google, and my arm got tired filming him before he got tired of talking.

“I wish we had better relations with Google. Everybody is friendly, there’s no animosity but there’s just that sense of like, sooner or later, we’re going to be at cross purposes,” Carmack said.

I recorded 20 minutes of the talk for Periscope, so the video is vertical. It is embedded in this post for your viewing pleasure.

I came back to the press room to write this blog post but hopefully Carmack has stopped talking by now so that he still has a voice for a lengthy keynote he has planned for Thursday afternoon.

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