Valve’s Lighthouse tracking technology is the cornerstone of what sets the HTC Vive apart from the Oculus Rift. Valve developed the advanced IR tracking system in-house, and it’s what allows the Vive to track its motion controllers accurately. Valve has been saying since day one that it would eventually allow third party companies to use the Lighthouse technology, but it wasn’t clear about when it would open the door to other companies. FOVE Inc., which is building the FOVE eye-tracking VR HMD, had been planning to use Lighthouse tracking with the FOVE HMD, but the company recently decided to develop its own tracking system because Valve was taking too long with its licensing program.
FOVE may have acted a little bit too soon, though, because Valve is finally ready to give third-party companies access to Lighthouse tracking technology, and it will be completely royalty free. Valve is more concerned with growing the portfolio of SteamVR compatible devices than it is about taking a cut of the profits from them. Valve is playing the long game with SteamVR. “The existence of more SteamVR-compatible devices will make the SteamVR community more valuable for customers and developers,” reads the SteamVR Tracking HDK FAQ.
Giving away the technology license should pave the way for devices that Valve would never have thought of. Lighthouse component prices should also come down with more companies manufacturing compatible devices.
So, What's The Catch?
Licensing the Lighthouse technology doesn’t cost anything, but Valve isn’t just giving the tech to everyone. To be eligible for licensing, you do have to attend a training session in Seattle. Valve said that it “has limited bandwidth to provide licensee support, but wants to make sure that licensees are not constrained by that limitation.”
To ensure that licensees aren’t getting in over their heads with limited help afterward, Valve partnered with Synapse to provide in-person onboarding. Each company will be required to send at least one industrial designer, mechanical engineer or electrical engineer to the $3000-per-person Synapse Lighthouse training course before Valve will issue a license. Once Valve issues a license to a company, it will be free to build and sell Lighthouse-tracked devices. Valve won't be taking a cut of sales and doesn't plan to limit where you can sell the devices.
The SteamVR Tracking HDK is currently limited to tracked devices. Valve said it would eventually open channels for third party Base Stations, but for now, the company is keeping the Base Stations close to its chest to avoid potential compatibility issues. The SteamVR Tracking Licensee Dev Kit features everything you’ll need to get a prototype up and running. The package includes a “modular reference tracked object” that can be used to experiment with devices, a “full complement of EVM circuit boards” so that you embed the electronics into your own prototype and 40 sensors so you can build your first tracked device. The kit also includes two Vive Base Stations so you can test your creations. Valve will also give licensees unfettered access to purchase sensors from Triad Semiconductor, its ASIC partner.
The Hardware Developer Kit also includes software tools that will help with sensor placement and calibration. Valve also provides documentation such as schematics for the included electronics, mechanical design for the reference tracked object and data sheets for the sensor ASICs.
So How Do You Get Access?
Valve is currently accepting Lighthouse license applications. To get a spot in the training course, log into Steam (create an account if you don’t have one yet), sign up to be a Steam Partner, and apply for SteamVR Tracking license. Valve will contact you with a training schedule. The company will hold the first two classes in September.