Here’s why Oculus VR just bought a hand-tracking company

July 16, 2015, 9:46 PM UTC
The Oculus Rift is arranged for a photograph during the Oculus VR Inc. "Step Into The Rift" event in San Francisco,   California, U.S., on Thursday, June 11, 2015. Facebook Inc.'s Oculus virtual-reality headsets will work with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 10 and use the software maker's wireless Xbox game controller. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg  *** Local Caption *** Palmer Luckey
The Oculus Rift is arranged for a photograph during the Oculus VR Inc. "Step Into The Rift" event in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, June 11, 2015.
Photograph by David Paul Morris — Getty Images

Oculus VR just bought Israel-based Pebbles Interfaces, a company that spent the past five years developing hand-tracking technology.

Brian Blau, analyst at Gartner, says this acquisition is not only about technology, but also about talent. Pebbles Interfaces has very sophisticated algorithms and hardware for tracking hand gestures using structured light.

“This is pretty significant when you consider that input for virtual reality and augmented reality has really yet to be defined,” Blau says. “It’s often thought that a device like a game controller can be used for input in immersive apps. … But there are others who think that controllers are stopgap measure and ultimately it’s more natural human gestures that should be the main input mechanism for these immersive apps. That’s where Pebbles becomes important.”

Travis Jakel, research analyst at Piper Jaffray, believes there are still issues to resolve before controlling games and interactions with one’s hands in VR becomes a reality. He says there is no de facto way to interact with a user interface today.


But by having the minds from Pebbles and Oculus working together, this problem can be solved. In fact, Gene Munster, senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray, believes controlling VR with just your hands will be available on the second generation of the Oculus Rift consumer VR headset.

The Pebbles Interfaces deal comes on the heels of Oculus VR’s May 26, 2015 acquisition of Surreal Vision, a company known for real-time 3D scene reconstruction. That company’s founders, Richard Newcombe, Renato Salas-Moreno, and Steven Lovegrove, have joined Oculus Research.

“Surreal Vision is a personal favorite of mine in terms of the long-term vision of Oculus,” Brendan Iribe, CEO of Oculus, says. “They’re brilliant Ph.D. computer vision scientists and researchers that have worked on a number of different computer vision techniques. This isn’t for this generation of VR, the Oculus Rift Consumer Edition. This is for future generations of VR technology.”

The Consumer Edition Oculus Rift VR headset, predicted to retail for $500, will ship in Q1 2016. But Munster says the current arms race among VR companies like Oculus and HTC won’t be won this first generation of hardware this year or next. He believes Oculus is looking at the 10-year-picture with these acquisitions, and setting itself up for a potential long-term victory.

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