Can you see me now?

Oculus boosts its computer vision team with trio of acquisitions

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Virtual reality headsets have all drifted toward a similar ski goggle-like form. But exactly how we interact with them is still evolving. There are handheld joysticks and treadmills, but the ultimate input device is our own hands.

Oculus, the virtual reality wunderkind that was bought by Facebook in March, announced three acquisitions today that will boost its computer vision team, and thus its ability to track wearers’ hands. They include Nimble VR, a hand-tracking sensor that recently ran a popular, but now-canceled, Kickstarter campaign.

Nimble’s device is a Toblerone bar-shaped set of sensors that evolved from a set of Kinects. It is built to attach to the front of an Oculus Rift — and definitely small enough to be integrated into the device itself.

The Nimble VR sensor bar.
The Nimble VR sensor bar.

Other startups have already been developing hand tracking for the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, which will maybe/probably/hopefully come out next year. Leap Motion is currently selling an inexpensive mount that attaches its multi-purpose hand tracker to Oculus developer headsets. Survios showed me a bulky but very effective tracking system in April, which was made even better by pairing it with handheld joysticks. And there are tons of options like Nimble that have popped up on crowdfunding sites.

Tracking hands solely through computer vision has been challenging, and no one has gotten it exactly right. The full list of acquired companies shows that Oculus is treating it as a complex problem. 13th Lab is focused on 3D reconstruction, or how the computer rebuilds what the real world looks like after collecting data about it. NYU computer science professor Chris Bregler, who did visual tracking for films like Star Trek Into Darkness movies, was also “acquired.”

So does this mean Oculus will definitely include hand tracking sensors in its first consumer headset? Maybe. It’s such a big part of the virtual reality experience that it would be foolish to leave it to third parties entirely.