Inside Oculus’ Quest to Design an Invisible VR Controller

In Game News

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DECEMBER 22 IS the perfect time for getting some last-minute things done at the office, maybe finishing up holiday shopping.

If you’re feeling particularly brave, you might even fight your way through airport crowds to visit your family. On December 22 in 2012, though, Nirav Patel was in China.

A couple of months before, the young engineer had left Apple for a little company called Oculus, and now he was checking out production facilities that could help manufacture his new employer’s virtual-reality headset.

Nirav being Nirav, he had a pocket notebook with him, and on this particular Christmas Eve Eve Eve, he sat down and started drawing.

Soon, he had sketched out two different views of the same object. From the top, it looked like a lima bean. In profile, it was the spitting image of a cyborg walrus with a tiny chef’s hat on.

Scribbled around the drawing were annotations describing the various buttons and shapes festooning the object—“jog/scroll,” “vibe motor,” “piezo element,” “clicking analog”—and at the top of the page, in a space marked Project, Patel wrote the word “Controller.”

As long as Oculus was making a VR headset, he reasoned, the company might as well think about the best way to play games in that headset.

Nearly four years later, Oculus has produced a pair of devices that share some key features in common with Patel’s sketch.

But the Oculus Touch, which goes on sale today, is much more than a set of controllers—they are, in effect, your hands.

And by being your hands, they provide the first glimpse of what virtual reality is fast becoming: a social universe.

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