NYT: Valve working on augmented-reality glasses


— 6:00 AM on September 10, 2012

It's no secret that Valve is quietly working on some kind of hardware project—the company's latest job posting was quite direct about it. But what exactly is that project? The answer, believe it or not, may have come from the unlikeliest of places: a profile piece by the New York Times, which went up this past Saturday.

In the piece, New York Times reporter Nick Wingfield writes, "Now Valve executives think they may be onto the next big thing in games: wearable computing. The goggles I'm wearing — reminiscent of the ones Google recently unveiled to much hoopla — could unlock new game-playing opportunities. This technology could let players lose themselves inside a virtual reality and, eventually, blend games with their views of the physical world."

Sound familiar? id Software tech guru John Carmack has also been experimenting with virtual-reality glasses. He demonstrated a VR-enabled version of Doom 3 BFG Edition to The Verge a few months ago, and he's thrown his support behind an open-source VR hardware venture dubbed Occulus Rift. That venture went on to secure a whopping $2.44 million in Kickstarter funding—nearly 10 times the $250,000 goal.

Valve isn't being quite as overt about its plans yet, but the Times story does reveal a fair bit. It brings up a recent Valve hire, inventor and chip designer Jeri Ellsworth, who "gave a tour of Valve's hardware laboratory, proudly showing off 3-D printers, a laser cutter and other industrial tools used to cobble together hardware prototypes." The story also quotes Michael Abrash, an industry veteran who worked on Doom and Quake at id. Abrash leads Valve's wearable computing endeavor—reportedly the "most far-out hardware project" at the company—and he believes augmented-reality glasses may be "three to five years away." According to Abrash, Valve isn't sure whether it will mass-market glasses itself, but the company ultimately intends to "share its designs freely so other hardware companies can make glasses, too."

In that job posting we saw last week, Valve said it was frustrated with the "lack of innovation" in PC hardware. "Even basic input, the keyboard and mouse, haven't really changed in any meaningful way over the years," the company lamented. Augmented-reality glasses could be a solution to that particular problem. I don't doubt Valve has other projects simmering away in its hardware labs, though.

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