This is the third article in a series on the Valve/HTC Vive Ecosystem. If you you need additional context, please begin with the first article in the series.
A famous quote from Gabe Newell is about a lesson that Valve learned early-on when dealing with the Internet. You can find it in Episode 306 of the Nerdist Podcast at 00:12:14.
Don’t ever, ever try to lie to the Internet because they will catch you. They will deconstruct your spin. The will remember everything you ever say for eternity. -Gabe Newell
At this year’s Game Developers Conference where Valve announced their Virtual Reality partnership with HTC, and at that time, Gabe made an incredible claim about the Lighthouse tracking technology:
So we’re gonna just give that away. What we want is for that to be like USB. It’s not some special secret sauce. It’s like everybody in the PC community will benefit if there’s this useful technology out there. -Gabe Newell (Valve)
The story which accompanies the interview describes Lighthouse as a way of providing infinite input solutions into Virtual Reality. “As long as tracking is there, anything can be brought into VR, like how USB ports enable you to plug (virtually) anything into your computer.”
What the Technology Brings
In the previous two articles, we’ve dug into the technology itself, and it supports what we’ve been told. Spend perhaps $100-150 for two of Valve’s Lighthouse units and mount them in opposite corners of the room. At that point, you can almost forget about them. But any enabled device that you bring into the room can take advantage of:
- Rock-solid positional data with high precision and resolution
- Rock-solid orientation data with high precision and resolution
- Very low additional power use (passive sensors, undemanding electronics)
This is the second article in a series on the Valve/HTC Vive Ecosystem. If you have not already done so, please begin with the first article in the series.
Today’s article will provide additional information on the Lighthouse units, explain the Lighthouse sensor system, and take a brief look at the sensor processing which is used to return the absolute position of a tracked device.
This particular article will try to tread carefully. There’s no way around it, folks. This article is going to contain facts, rumors, innuendos, and outright lies about the operation of Valve’s Lighthouse sensor system.
- We’re working with publicly available information, which is scarce.
- There is no documentation.
- It is still in development and very subject to change.
- There is no need for regular users to understand the underlying details.
- Software developers can expect to be given an API that reports position without knowing any of the underlying hardware details.
Finally, for the time being, Valve employees are busy getting this stuff ready, and their time is better spent working on the product than answering all the outside questions. See page #9 of the Valve Handbook for New Employees for more details on how that process works.
We’ll have to assume that we’re on our own, for now.
Back to the Lighthouse for a Moment
I’m going to use the earlier research and development model for a reference.
Towards the middle upper left of the enclosure is a panel that has been mounted with LEDs. The apparent purpose of these LEDs is to widely emit a flash of infrared light which could have something close to the same perspective and range as the laser beams. Read More…
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably already aware of the Valve/HTC partnership where HTC will manufacture the Vive, a virtual reality head mounted display, powered by Valve’s SteamVR platform.
As part of the reveal, one new piece of technology was introduced to the public: the Lighthouse. This is a brand-new-to-VR technology which will be used as part of a system to track the position and orientation of a user’s head mounted display and controllers throughout an entire room.
With Lighthouse, instead of using VR in a chair or standing in place, its room-scale VR feature allows you to use the space of an entire room as a stage to physically walk around in a virtual environment.
This article is based on publicly available information. Be aware that we are trying to explain a system that is unreleased, subject to change, and has very little publicly available information. Some elements of this article may prove inaccurate at a later date.
With any complex system, there are many rules, details, and exceptions to explore. This first article is just going to cover the tech basics (but will still be plenty meaty for many). We’ll consider more detailed issues in later articles.
A Basic Operational Review
The purpose of this first article is to clear up some of the common misconceptions concerning the Lighthouse technology. It will also serve as a starting place for additional articles on Lighthouse and on the various aspects of the HTC/Valve partnership.
By understanding how this one component works, we can understand much more about what HTC and Vive are trying to deliver to consumers. They’re not just cranking out randomly incremental or independent technological solutions here; Valve is running a very deep and highly integrated game plan.