HTC’s Vive Tracker Has Brought Out The Best In VR Innovation

by Jamie Feltham • June 23rd, 2017

HTC’s Vive Tracker presents an elegant solution to the VR peripheral problem. Instead of releasing hundreds upon hundreds of different controllers that replicate real world items, why not just stick a single tracked object onto the real thing to bring it into the virtual world? When it was announced at CES back in January, we found ourselves asking why we hadn’t already thought of it.

Developers, though, have thought of much more than that.

Dev kits for the Tracker have been available for a little while now, and the VR community has embraced the device with the same kind of enthusiasm we’ve come to expect from it over the past few years. Early examples of the tech — sticking it to phones for local co-op, enabling full body-tracking, and fire fighting simulations — were all incredibly impressive, but we’ve since seem some even more amazing examples of what’s being done with the device.

For many, the Tracker has served as a way to enhance the immersion and experience of existing VR apps. Cloudgate Studios used full-body tracking to let me kick dinosaurs in the face in Island 359, for example. More recently, we’ve seen the kit attached to a drone to create a controllable turret inside one of the Vive’s most recognised wave shooters, Space Pirate Trainer.

Vive + Drone + Space Pirate Trainer from Jaymis on Vimeo.

New game ideas are coming too. It looks a little (very) unsafe, but this shooter in which the Tracker spins around the real world on a fan to make a moving target just scratches the surface of what might be possible within VR games.

But the Tracker isn’t just enriching gaming experiences; it can also help to make them safer too. We were instantly sold on Triangular Pixels’ solution to track your pets so that you don’t walk into them when you have a hunk of plastic obscuring your view in the real world.

And then there’s the projects that don’t even use the Vive, or perhaps even VR itself. Below is a mind-blowing game in which Trackers are attached to toy tanks. A virtual battlefield is projected onto the floor and players move their tanks around to avoid incoming fire. In fact, just take five minutes to look through Teruaki Tsubokura’s YouTube page. It’s filled with incredible applications for the Tracker and more.

The Tracker is taking VR and other technologies in bold new directions, empowering developers with tools that might previously be seen in R&D labs or at state of the art institutions. Body tracking was once a Hollywood-only affair, but now it’s just $300 away for any Vive developer.

But challenges lay ahead. What’s difficult to envision is how HTC will tame the unwieldy landscape it’s just unleashed for consumers. Right now the Tracker has created a distinctly experimental feel; everything’s in R&D and some things require multiple Trackers or other peripherals. Are you really going to buy a Tracker just to attach to your cat? Would you then buy another?

Vive’s Tracker will be available for customers later this year at $99.99. Sadly some of the tech’s better uses like body tracking require multiple units, and we’re not sure exactly how many Vive owners will be willing to splash another $200 – $300 on a system they’ve already paid $799 for. Developers might have embraced the tech, but that won’t mean much if there’s no one to actually use it.

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  • It’s definitely a cool idea being able to bring various real-world objects into VR by using the trackers rather than having to buy lots of separate peripherals.

    I presume without some additional parts though, they’re really just giving us different shaped motion-tracked objects. So you could hold a bat in a baseball game or a plastic gun in a gun game, but you can’t actually use say the trigger on the real world gun fire it in the game, without said additional parts as I mentioned, right?

    But it will def be cool for making typical VR items that you hold and swing/point feel like you’re actually swinging/pointing the real-world equivalent–because you actually will be in many cases.

    • Doctor Bambi

      There are a series of pogo pins along the base of the Vive tracker that give peripheral makers an easy way to tie into all of the button inputs of a standard Vive controller. If they build the peripheral to take advantage of these, then yes, a trigger pull can equate to firing a gun in-game.

      • Ah, that’s pretty cool. But, I guess that means you do need extra peripherals again, rather than it being about using the stuff you already have in your house and not collecting a log of plastic crap that will just be clutter in a few years time, much like happened with the Wii.

  • Additional cost is a consideration but the tracker actually makes me want to purchase a Vive. I can see it being more useful in production applications such as MR recording (which is why I want one), and to modify or customise hand sensor ergonomics like Master of Shapes did with the ‘spray can’. Foot tracking is already compatible in many VR games and I think it will add to the immersion but I’m not sure if the average VR gamer is really craving it. Perhaps its strength will be in the sporting or medical sector where training or rehab conditions can be better controlled in VR.