Logitech today revealed the Bridge developer kit, which makes it easier to use your keyboard while you’re wearing a virtual reality headset. It also enables developers to customize your keyboard's appearance to match the experience you’re in.
Last year, Oculus and HTC introduced the world to high-end consumer-grade virtual reality systems. The Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive both provide incredible immersive experiences that pull you out of the real world and into the fantasy that is the game you’re playing. When VR hardware was introduced to the world, entertainment was the primary focus for its use. Oculus and HTC both put emphasis on games and other entertaining experiences to drum up interest in the medium.
Not long after the Vive hit the market, HTC started a campaign to drum up interest in VR hardware from businesses. The Vive Business Edition featured additional hardware and dedicated corporate support line that was supposed to convince companies to invest in VR hardware for productivity purposes. VR has potential to make long distance collaboration easier, and tools exist for visualizing 3D environments and objects, such as Nvidia’s Holodeck project. But for virtual reality technology to truly boost the productivity of the average person, you need a way to bring common input devices into your virtual space.
Microsoft recently launched the Windows Mixed Reality platform, which attempts to blend the virtual world with the real world for productivity and entertainment purposes. Microsoft’s platform allows you to interact with the virtual environment with wand controllers, and it also leaves you with access to your keyboard and mouse. Using a keyboard with a Windows MR headset isn’t impossible, but it’s not exactly convenient. You have to lift the visor of the headset to see your keyboard so that you can use it. Soon, it will be easier to use a keyboard and mouse in combination with a Vive headset than it will with a Windows MR headset.
Earlier this year, HTC announced the Vive Tracker universal tracking system, which would enable developers and hardware creators to add SteamVR Tracking to any object such as light guns and other peripherals, and with three of them, you can enable full body tracked avatars in virtual experiences. And Logitech realized that it could use the Vive trackers to attach SteamVR tracking to gaming keyboards.
“We’ve been working with Logitech over the past year and think what they’ve created is the solution we all need,” said Darshan Shankar, Founder, and CEO, Bigscreen, Inc. “Virtual keyboards are great for simple interactivity, but for productivity and collaboration, there’s nothing quite like the tactile feel of typing on an actual physical keyboard. Being able to see your keyboard in VR makes it significantly easier to type and interact with our computers.”
Logitech took the tracked keyboard idea and created the Bridge developer kit, which offers more than just spatial tracking for your input device. The Bridge SDK makes it possible to virtually customize your keyboard to match your personality, or to pair better with the experience that you’re in.
Logitech’s Bridge SDK includes a virtual model of a Logitech G gaming keyboard (exact model undisclosed), complete with animations for the key presses. The Bridge software also features animations for your fingers, so you can see where your hands are in relation to the keys. Logitech didn’t explain how the software tracks your hands, but it said that it “created a way to use the Vive’s existing tracking” system to track your fingers.
“Whether you’re doing work or surfing the web you sometimes need the ability to enter text, and Logitech has made it easier to use your keyboard in VR,” said Guy Godin, creator of Virtual Desktop. “With Bridge, you can see your physical keyboard, your hands, and type without having to take your headset off.”
The package also includes a variety of customizable skin examples that show the potential for customization. The Bridge software would allow you to change the font on the keys, or alter the text entirely. You could even change the keys to icons that represent specific functions in games or applications. Imagine working in a video editing tool and having the name of the function that a particular key does right on the key. The software can even digitally remove keys that aren’t relevant to the software you’re using. If the G key has no function, the overlay could blank it out, so you have no reason to press it.
Logitech said it designed the Bridge SDK to be universally supported by SteamVR games and that any software built for the platform would be compatible with the Bridge keyboard overlay.
Logitech is offering Bridge developers kits to 50 developers in the U.S. to help work out the bugs and create meaningful uses for the platform. Logitech said the system is currently in the “proof of concept” phase and that it's looking for developers who can help finish the companion application and help prepare it for a retail rollout.
The Bridge developer kit includes a Logitech G gaming keyboard, a Vive Tracker universal tracking puck, and a custom bracket to attach the tracker to the keyboard. Bridge developer kit recipients will also get access to the Bridge software development kit.
Logitech is currently accepting applications from interested developers. If you would like to be considered for the project, qualified developers can apply until November 16. Logitech said that if it receives enough interest, it may consider selling developer kits in the future.
Logitech didn’t say when it expects the Bridge platform to be available to consumers, but we get the impression it will be a while. And we’d be surprised to see the platform go to retail with a Vive Tracker attachment. The sensors that interface with Valve’s SteamVR Tracking system are readily available, and they don’t cost much money. We think it makes much more sense to expect Logitech to release keyboards with SteamVR Tracking sensors built in.