Is Valve Flirting with Augmented Reality?
The story of how Valve let two of its engineers walk away with the company’s augmented reality tech is well known to the VR crowd. The impression we came away with was that Valve has shifted all of their attention to virtual reality and hasn’t looked back since. Or have they?
In last month’s series of articles on Valve’s Lighthouse, we reviewed what was known about their new tracking technology and covered some potential uses of the tech.
A curious finding was that not only was Lighthouse compatible with augmented reality, but that it actually helps solve some of the critical problems which continue to plague the fledgling industry. It was hard to think that this fact could have escaped Valve’s notice.
On April 23rd, Valve finally included their Lighthouse driver in the SteamVR beta. While the API remains unpublished, an examination of the new component revealed a very curious set of strings…
STEREO_DEV_DANHAT_EMAGIN_SXGA, STEREO_DEV_BENCRUSHER_MICROVISION, STEREO_DEV_BENCRUSHER2_MICROVISION, STEREO_DEV_DEANPHOTONBLASTER, STEREO_DEV_ST1080_FLIP_FORWARD, STEREO_DEV_ST1080_FLIP_UPWARD, STEREO_DEV_ST1080_UPWARD_GLUE_GUN_SPECIAL, STEREO_DEV_OCULUS_RIFT_FLIP_UPWARD, STEREO_DEV_JERI_RETRO_MARK1
We see references to the nVisor ST50 combination AR/VR head mounted display, the Vuzix Star 1200 augmented reality glasses, the Lumus DK-32 augmented reality glasses, the Silicon Micro ST1080 HMD with 10% see-through display, and a number of development units named after microdisplay manufacturers.
There are also “flip” models of various displays including the Oculus Rift. Could these be AR/VR combo devices? Finally, we have what seems to be a reference to one of the AR prototype displays that were created by former Valve employee Jeri Ellsworth.
To recap: with Lighthouse, we have a new technology which has the potential to offer breakthroughs in augmented reality. Listed inside the windows device driver (which actually implements the technology) are specific models of AR and AR/VR combo devices.
We still don’t have proof, but we have enough pieces to start asking the question: is Valve flirting with augmented reality?
EDITED May 16, 2015: It is possible that the flip models are made to allow the user to easily see and interact with the real world simply by flipping the display out of the way.