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article imageIntel's building a depth-sensing camera add-on for the HTC Vive

By James Walker     Aug 5, 2016 in Technology
Intel has revealed it's building a depth-sensing camera add-on for the HTC Vive virtual reality headset. The camera will enable the headset to track hand movement and detect physical obstacles, preventing the wearer from running into them while in VR.
The accessory was revealed early by Dimitri Diakopoulos, a senior prototyping engineer at Intel. He posted an image of the device to Twitter, confirming it to be a depth-sensing camera. The tweet has since been deleted.
The camera attaches to the front of the Vive. It's a small vertical bar that rises slightly above the height of the headset. It has a symmetrical design equipped with six tracking sensors, three per side. They are able to scan the area immediately in front of the wearer for obstacles or trackable controllers.
Diakopoulos told Upload VR that the device is designed with two purposes in mind. It can be used to track hand movements, allowing the Vive to work with third party motion controllers. It can also scan the area in front of the headset in real-time, automatically detecting obstacles to prevent you falling over or tripping while playing VR games.
To some extent, the Vive already comes with these features. It has an outward-facing camera and can highlight nearby objects when you get close to them. With a depth-sensing camera, a 3D visualisation of your sofa could be displayed in the headset as you approach it though, enabling you to take action and walk around it.
Diakopoulos hasn't explained how the device works. It is almost certainly built using Intel's existing RealSense depth-sensing cameras though. These are able to track motion in the same way the human eye does. An HD camera, infrared camera and infrared laser projector combine to enable precise motion tracking on desktop and mobile devices.
"There are three cameras that act like one — a 1080p HD camera, an infrared camera, and an infrared laser projector — they 'see' like the human eye to sense depth and track human motion," Intel explains on the RealSense website. "Intel RealSense technology redefines how we interact with our devices for a more natural, intuitive and immersive experience, supported by the powerful performance of Intel processors."
The HTC Vive is quickly becoming a popular platform to develop virtual reality accessories for. The company is open to third-parties extending the Vive with their own hardware, creating a rich ecosystem of virtual reality hardware and apps. Today, the company announced VIVEPORT, its own virtual reality app store to buy new Vive content directly from the headset.
So far, Intel hasn't developed its own virtual reality headset, instead choosing to work with devices like the HTC Vive. By combining its depth-sensing technology with HTC's expertise in pure VR, the company can create a system that's sophisticated and wide in scope but still accessible to consumers.
Intel will reveal more information about the camera at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco from August 16 to 18. Diakopoulos' tweets confirm virtual reality will be a big part of the conference. Intel is expanding into new areas of technology in an attempt to reduce its reliance on the struggling desktop processor market. Virtual reality is one of its major interests, even if it is building on top of the HTC Vive for now.
More about Intel, htc vive, Virtual reality, Vr, headsets
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