Manus VR isn't the only one working on articulated hand tracking but its gloves do pretty well in terms of tracking even with the early rudimentary design. Last month, the company revealed it was also working on experimental arm tracking as well, and while it's still in an early stage, Manus did show it off during E3 2016.
Just like the GDC demo, Manus uses the same HTC Vive setup where a controller is strapped to each arm. Before the demo, my shoulder, arm and forearm had to be measured. CTO Maarten Witteveen told me there will be a calibration screen when the actual device launches and that it should remember your measurements.
With the Vive strapped on my face, my left arm showed up in VR and moved in sync with my actual arm movements. My right arm however, was jutting out from my torso, which was a weird experience. After restarting the program, it worked perfectly fine and I was able fully wave my arms around while wiggling my fingers.
Witteveen says the team is looking at creating some sort of bracelet with the Vive's sensors instead of making an entire sleeve with sensors. Manus is even working with HTC and Valve on sharing sensor information.
Still, the final form may look a little different - the company is trying to figure where the best place to put the device for the greatest tracking accuracy. The prime spot, located on the arm, will ultimately determine the form factor.
The arm tracking tech may ship out a little after the Manus VR gloves but the team is still planning on December. This won't be the final consumer version, just an open SDK for developers.
Witteveen says at least 10 developers send an email every week asking when the SDK will be available so the team has been working around the clock to deliver a product.
Whenever it happens, you could have a much better experience in VR if all works accordingly - not only will your fingers be able to pick stuff up, your hands will be attached to arms in-game.
"You can play them as you would with a controller except you're not holding a controller which adds to the immersion. There's real hand presence - you actually feel like it's your hand instead of you controlling a digital hand if that makes any sense."
The company has been showcasing a game called Pillow's Willow that was made to demonstrate the glove's ability. It involves picking up fireflies, rearranging broken stairs, pushing pedals down like whack-a-mole (as Stumpel put it), and playing notes on a piano.
The gloves for the demo weren't the final model meaning they weren't the prettiest or most practical design considering you're literally strapping on a Vive controller to each arm. There are also several wires connecting a vibration motor to the fingers.
Stumpel says the final product will definitely not have the same setup and will integrate tracking sensors while retaining low latency.
"We have a custom wireless protocol that really makes the latency a lot lower which is very important in VR. You don't want a delay in making the movement and seeing the movement on the screen."
The new versions will also be more sophisticated. The ones on the floor were only tracking one knuckle joint.
"In the newer one we're tracking both joints. We've segmented the sensor and improved it in various areas."
Despite the prototype-ish look, the gloves were still responsive and gratifying. Turning my hand into a fist, picking up the fireflies, tapping imaginary objects in reality were all mirrored in virtual reality.
On occasion, it was hard to discern what I'd picked up because of course, you're not literally doing it. This is where Oculus Touch succeeds - the haptics the Touch controllers provide make you think you're actually picking something up. Manus's gloves are equipped with vibration motors, but don't give the same feeling quite yet.
The material is a breathable fabric that's used in sports attire. Right now, there's also one size for the glove - medium/large but Stumpel says the glove can easily be redesigned.
"The way we designed this glove makes it very easy to resize. The fashion industry already has standard sizes - and the sensor we use can be very easily manufactured in different sizes. It's an adaptable system."
Stumpel also says there are several games that you'll be able to play right off the bat. He mentioned Job Simulator and Surgeon Simulator as good places to start.
A pair of washable gloves and wrist mounts that attach to Vive controllers will cost you $250. Right now, the gloves will last about eight hours and charge via USB. Though there are still some kinks to fix, the Manus VR gloves and its ability to really put your hands in experiences are a step in the right direction for VR accessories.
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