Valve has been working on Knuckles virtual reality controllers for quite some time, and it finally appears to be inching towards a public release. The company announced today that it’s now shipping Knuckles EV2 development kits to SteamVR developers, including substantially redesigned versions of the motion and finger-sensing controllers, as well as Moondust, a Portal-inspired demo that shows off Knuckles’ improved functionality.
Compared with the prior Knuckles EV1.3 release, the new controllers feature comfort-enhancing improvements to the industrial design, ergonomics, and strap design, all designed to support hand sizes between the 5th and 95th percentiles. Thumbsticks have been added to the controllers, the trackpad has been turned into a Track Button with force detection, and another force sensor has been added to the grip. The force sensors can work with capacitive sensors to enable fine hand motion detection, including grabbing, pinching, crushing, and other gestures.
“With these two sensors working together, we can detect the full range of the hand position — from completely open, to holding the controller lightly, to gripping it tightly,” Valve said. “This helps us understand user intent and makes things like ‘pickup and throw’ with Knuckles EV2 much improved.”
Under-the-hood changes also enable Knuckles to support SteamVR Tracking 2.0, offer up to six hours of battery life, and charge via USB-C. A full charge now takes an hour and a half at 900mAh, assuming the USB port supports that speed.
Valve also debuted Moondust, a tech demo taking place in the Portal universe — including conspicuous Aperture robot branding. “With moon-based conversion gel stores running dangerously low, Aperture looks to the stars for a new source of the valuable portal conductor. Take control of a giant robot on the moon, spearheading the Aperture Lunar Resources Initiative.” The demo includes several segments:
- Crush moon rocks to a fine powder with your powerful hands, taking advantage of the high-fidelity force sensors on Knuckles EV2
- Practice driving a moon buggy, utilizing the joystick and the rest of the new inputs of Knuckles EV2
- Assemble a space station in orbit, with fine interactions driven by all 10 fully tracked fingers
- Enjoy some target practice in the throwing range, with the most natural throwing VR can offer
Knuckles has been under development for well over a year at this point, with developers receiving early units since mid-2017. As the name hints, the goal has been to enable PC app and game developers to take advantage of advanced finger tracking, while including conventional game-style buttons and hand tracking sensors that will work across multiple VR applications.
The Knuckles EV2 controllers and Moondust are available now to registered SteamVR developers. No public release date has been confirmed as of yet.