Valve ‘Knuckles’ Controllers – The Next Generation Steam VR Input Device for Finger Actions

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valve knuckle controllers

As it is at the moment in Virtual Reality, and at least with the HTC Vive and Oculus Touch, user interfaces begin with your hands. This new dimension of interaction, however, calls for more direct game toys like the Valve knuckle controllers. If not for the comfort it offers during the experience, at least for being a revolutionary input device that brings what VR gamers were expecting in future to the now.

Although it is developed by Valve, the knuckle controllers share similarities with the Oculus Touch, but comes with a new design and has interesting features which give room to a few neat tricks. Valve’s knuckle controllers do not only track your hands but all your fingers inclusive, and it does this in a unique way by calculating the distance between your fingers and the base of the controller. This way it can distinguish between a grab and a release.

What we have of this knuckle controllers at the moment are limited prototypes which were sent to selected developers for review. The release of the final design would be announced later, but with the feedbacks we got from developers, we can have an idea of what to anticipate.

Read further into our detailed review to learn more about what the Valve knuckle controllers are capable of and what makes it unique!

OVERVIEW

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The Valve knuckle controller is a fully-tracked motion controller unit for Steam VR, and it is specially designed to emphasize hand presence in your game experience.

Unlike the Vive Wands which feels a bit bulky in the hand, the knuckle controller is smaller and just fits in perfectly.

One impressive feature of the hand controller is that it lets you open your hands without the controller dropping off, as it can be fastened to the hand via an adjustable strap. The ability to open and close your hand can also create a simulation of picking and letting go of stuff in the virtual world as a good touch on reality.

In addition to the tracking of your individual fingers through its built-in touch capacitors, the knuckle controllers can also be linked with outside sensors like Vive’s lighthouses to track the motion of your hands.

Each of the controller units come with a rechargeable battery which can last up to 3 hours at full charge. The battery charges via a Micro-B USB connector and a full charge of a totally dead battery takes about an hour.

To turn off the knuckle controllers, just hold down the system button for 3 seconds. You can also turn it off by closing Steam VR.

Visit the SteamVR Knuckles group for more information

HOW THE KNUCKLE CONTROLLERS ATTACH TO THE HAND

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In-between the soft strap and the body of the knuckle controllers are holes for you to slip in your pinky, ring finger, and middle finger.

  1. To fasten the knuckle controllers to your hand, you will have to pull on the cord situated around the bottom of the unit and tighten to your convenience.
  2. To get it off your hand, you will first locate the release button close to the bottom of the strap, and then press it in order to loosen the cord.

HOW TO PAIR THE KNUCKLE CONTROLLERS

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Prior to pairing with Steam VR, you need to properly set the knuckle controllers to pairing mod. To do this, follow the steps below,

  1. Ensure to boot the knuckle controller unit for 3 seconds ahead of the pairing gesture performance.
  2. Next, press and hold the “System” button and the “Outer face” button simultaneously until the pairing beep sounds. The “Outer face” button is situated closest to the metal.
  3. Once the unit pairs successfully, a prompt to install the knuckle controller driver will be displayed in Steam VR status bar. To set up the driver, click on install and follow the prompts that come up.
  4. After this, Steam VR will need to restart in order to complete the installation.

Pairing the knuckle controller unit requires a Vive headset and base stations. Below are the steps to pair the knuckle controllers,

  1. Ensure that the Vive controllers are switched off.
  2. Press the system button on the knuckle controller unit to power it on
  3. Launch Steam VR, then go to Menu Devices Pair Controller

If you have your Vive controllers paired before, they’ll remain paired to the headset along with the knuckle controllers. However, to choose between the knuckle controllers and Vive, you will have to turn off the controller you do not wish to use.

HOW TO CALIBRATE THE KNUCKLE CONTROLLERS FOR FINGER TRACKING

Below are the important steps you need to calibrate the knuckle controllers.

  1. Ensure the unit is properly worn, well strapped, and feels comfortable in the hand.
  2. For one second, close your hands around the unit to form a punch, and rest your index finger on its trigger.
  3. Unwrap your hands, take your index finger from the trigger, and keep it open for another second.

The above processes will be stored in the memory of the controller where a median result is generated and used for finger tracking.

CALIBRATING FROM STEAM VR HOME

The first thing you may want to try out with your knuckle controllers on Steam VR home is the developer five fingered hands for a perfect calibration of the unit. To do this;

  1. Wrap your hand around the knuckle controllers for a second. Avoid squeezing the unit and ensure that your index finger rests properly on the trigger.
  2. Unwrap your hands quickly from the controllers and keep it open for another second.
  3. Repeat the process and watch the screen until the displayed hands can open and close in sync with your hand actions.

You can recalibrate the knuckle controllers if the interaction with your fingers seems less accurate due to a change of grip, or if a new user picks up the controller. This recalibration process can be done independently on each of the controllers.

However, if done simultaneously, it is normal if you observe that one of the knuckle controllers calibrates before the other. In the course of your game session, and as you start to pick and throw stuff, you should also expect the unit to trigger a recalibration of your hand. This is usually due to the change in the capacitance of your skin over a long period.

KNUCKLE CONTROLLERS UNBOXING

 

 

CONCLUSION

Beyond being a gaming toy, the Valve knuckle controller doubles as every intuitive input system which can be customized to perform specialized functions, and its 5-finger tracking feature offers an immersion way beyond that of the Oculus Touch.

With so many similarities to the Oculus Touch controller in functionality, Valve’s knuckle controllers remove the need of having to grasp a wand controller for an entire game session. Besides, all you need do to grab an object in a virtual world would be to reach out and grip, while you can simply pull back and release to throw.

Currently, what we have available in the market of this new controllers are developer kits and we should still expect some changes to the current design based on the feedbacks Valve gets from various reviews.

However, when the final design of the Valve knuckle controllers come out, it won’t be just the next generation input device for gaming but also the future of outputs for communicative hand gestures in social VR.

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