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Valve’s next-gen VR controllers are going out to devs for finger tracking in VR games

Valve Knuckles EV2 Controller

Behind closed doors Valve has been working on the next-generation of virtual reality controller, and it seems like it is finally getting close to a market-ready product. Valve has announced it is shipping Knuckles EV2 dev kits to developers, and it’s packed with new features.

Valve’s Knuckles controller is built to sense your fingers movement directly, allowing for a much wider range of movements that the current wand-style HTC Vive controller. Knuckles EV2 straps directly onto your knuckles – hence the name – and senses finger tracking and mobility within a 3D space. This allows for far more natural user interactions, such as: picking objects up, throwing, pinching, and crushing.

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Finger tracking is accomplished through Valve’s SteamVR Skeletal Input driver- which sounds much more terrifying than it should. Knuckles EV2 tracks your finger positions and passes that info off to the driver, which subsequently uses that tracking data to mimic 31 bone transforms.

Here’s SteamVR Skeletal Input at work:

SteamVR Skeletal Input

With Knuckles EV2, Valve has also ditched its signature trackpad design – which was in the initial iterations of Knuckles dev kits – and instead opted for the humble thumbstick. Valve hasn’t changed its ways all that much, however, and has included a ‘Track button’, which takes “the best parts of the old trackpad and distills them”.

“While one of our main goals with Knuckles is to enable great direct interactions”, Valve says in a community post. “We know that indirect interactions in VR cannot be disregarded. And so we made room for a Thumbstick in Knuckles EV2.”

The new Track Button is actually thumb-shaped force sensor, allowing a user to utilise light to heavy key presses in-game for varying inputs. This works in tandem with another force sensor across the entire grip to allow for further analog input. Knuckles EV2 also features various capacitive touch sensors to measure a user’s grip on the controller and buttons – similar to the Oculus Rift controller’s capacitive controls.

Valve Knuckles EV2 Controller

Valve is shipping a single tech demo alongside the Knuckles EV2 dev kits. Moondust is a space sim allowing users to smash rocks, control RC cars, throw rocks, squeeze portal turrets, and enjoy further rock-based activities. It looks pretty fun. With some light setting tweaks, previous VR titles will be playable on the Knuckles controller, and Valve will eventually bring over further compatibility for VR experiences built with the first-gen wand controllers in mind.

Knuckles EV2 almost looks ready for market. Just how much longer are we going to have to wait to get our hands, figuratively and literally, on this next-gen controller tech?