Valve licenses its VR tracking tech and APIs for free

Looking to develop a VR application, perhaps a headset accessory, or maybe your own VR headset? Valve's got you covered. The company is opening up its SteamVR Tracking tech for anyone to use, with no strings attached.

In the SteamVR Tracking FAQ, Valve states that "[it believes] that the largest value for [its] customers and for Valve will come from allowing SteamVR Tracking to proliferate as widely as possible, and that "having a wide community of hardware developers pushing the platform forward will result in innovations that [Valve] would never think of or pursue on [its] own."

The company says it'll charge a royalty of exactly zero dollars per product, and insists there's no catch about its free licensing model. Mr. Wonderful is probably having a heartburn crisis right now. Companies don't even need Valve's review or approval to ship products using SteamVR tech, too.

The SteamVR Tracking technology is the same that powers the HTC Vive headset, and it comprises multiple components, all familiar to anyone who's used a Vive. First, there's a laser-firing base station (shark nose-straps not included), and another two optional base stations for full 360° tracking. Next up, there's a sensor kit and Inertial Measurement Unit for placing on the tracked object, which can be a bog-standard VR headset or something else entirely.

Finally, there's the bits that handle the bits—the Steam VR API, tasked with translating all the sensor data into actual positional information. Valve says its solution has sub-millimeter tracking accuracy with a sampling rate of up to 1 kHz. The Inertial Measurement Unit should be able to track fast movements, too.

Interesting developers will have a Licensee Dev Kit at their disposal, which includes two HTC Vive base stations, a generic-looking object with some accessories, a 40-pack of sensors, and EVM circuit boards. Along with all the physical bits, Valve throws in a software toolkit to assist with sensor placement, prototyping calibration tools, schematics for all the components, ASIC datasheets, and mechanical design files.

The hardware is part of a training course that Valve is offering SteamVR by way of a partnership with Synapse. That course comes with a price tag of $3000, though it apparently doesn't include the flight out to Seattle you'll need to take to attend. Valve is hoping to eventually "figure out a way to serve licensees without the training component," though. If all this appeals to you, all you need to do a Steam account, become a Steam partner, and sign up as a SteamVR Tracking licensee.

Comments closed
    • psuedonymous
    • 3 years ago

    There is still one catch: it is, at the moment, tied to the closed-source SteamVR runtime. i.e. you need Steam to be installed (and a Windows host PC) to track anything, and all tracking needs to feed through SteamVR.
    For VR applications, this isn’t too onerous (unless you want to use another API like OSVR), but if you want to use Lighthouse for tracking in any other situation it remains a no-go. Nothing that runs on an embedded non-windows system, for example, so things like quadcopters and robots that could benefit from moving away from the current model of having an offboard optical tracking system (e.g. Vicon) would just be switching one proprietary offboard tracking system for a (currently) less capable albeit cheaper one.
    And before someone chimes in with “But it’s OpenVR, not proprietary!”: OpenVR is closed source (OpenVR isnthe API, SteamVR is the implementation that handles that API), and the API is 100% controlled by Valve. Having a single-entity-controlled public API does not make you open (e.g. DirectX is not open but anyone can implement something that talks over that API).

    This is slightly contrary to their [url=https://www.engadget.com/2015/03/04/valve-vr-input/<]previous statement[/url<]: [quote<]"So we're gonna just give that away. What we want is for that to be like USB. [b<]It's not some special secret sauce.[/b<] It's like everybody in the PC community will benefit if there's this useful technology out there. So if you want to build it into your mice, or build it into your monitors, or your TVs, anybody can do it."[/quote<] In the current licensing, the 'secret sauce' remains within SteamVR. SteamVR handles overall Lighthouse system operation (e.g. coorinate calibration), and you need to pass SteamVR the sensor constellation geometry along with sensor timing data and IMU data, and SteamVR does its backboxed magic to hand back fused position and orientation. [b<]tl;dr[/b<]: this is fantastic for people who want to make Vive accessories. It's currently not much good if you want to use Lighthouse as a more general purpose tracking technique for anything other than Vive accessories.

    • Shobai
    • 3 years ago

    A few things that slipped past editing:

    [quote<]Interesting developers ...[/quote<] This should probably be "interested". [quote<]The hardware is part of a training course that Valve is offering SteamVR ...[/quote<] This may be missing a "for", or similar, between "offering" and "SteamVR". [quote<]If all this appeals to you, all you need to do a Steam account[/quote<] This was probably meant to be "... to do is open a ..."

    • EndlessWaves
    • 3 years ago

    No catch?

    [quote< ]I'm ready! What are the next steps? 1. Create a Steam account (or sign into your existing account) 2. Sign up as a Steam partner 3. Sign up as a SteamVR Tracking licensee 4. Nice job, now just sit back and wait to hear back about the training schedule! Q. Why aren’t you letting third-parties build their own versions of SteamVR base stations? A. For now we need to make sure that there is complete compatibility among base stations and tracked devices. Longer term, we do want the hardware community to help us evolve base station design and to help innovate in that area, but given our own limited bandwidth we need to push that collaboration out to some future date. Q. Where do I get sensors for tracked objects? How many can I buy? A. You can get them from our ASIC partner Triad Semiconductor, and you can buy as many as you want. Email Triad at info@triadsemi.com for more information.

    Q. Do I really have to fly people to Seattle to take your class just to license the tech?

    A. Yeah. If that’s too much of a time commitment, we hear you. At first we’re going to prioritize in-person classes. After that we hope to figure out a way to serve licensees without the training component. [/quote<] Sounds like quite a lot of catches to me, and given Valve's usual practices it wouldn't surprise me if end users had to install Valve's Storefront onto their PC and create a Valve account before the product will work. It may be monetarily free, but it's not without strings attached.

      • Sargent Duck
      • 3 years ago

      So, wait, the only “catches” are signing up and getting training?

      UNACCEPTABLE Valve! What a crap offer. We should all go use the Facebook OpenAPI, they know how to support the community

    • JosiahBradley
    • 3 years ago

    Checkmate Facebook.

      • ebomb808
      • 3 years ago

      ? Facebook could use this now for free if they wanted…

        • Pwnstar
        • 3 years ago

        If they were smart, they would.

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