Hand-tracking comes to Oculus Quest as humans speed towards a robotic Minority-Report like future

Lord help us all

The pandemic has had people thinking about the future all of a sudden. For years we ignored it, saying things won’t happen in our lifetime, now withing the space of a couple of months, we all work remotely, the climate and environment are much less polluted, the population is wearing protective gear and robots are delivering supplies including medicines and food.

There was even a story in the press today about how in the future (and by future we basically mean from this afternoon) robots will be working in hotels rather than humans.

So, with an impeccable sense of timing, Oculus is preparing to drop controller-free hand tracking on the Quest to make it feel even more like Minority Report or an episode of Westworld.

That’s right folks, the future is actually now. My next Uber could actually be a hovercar at this rate.

The Quest has had experimental hand-tracking as a feature on its beta-strand for a few months, and it has gradually been improved as time goes on. You have been able to have a play around and see the potential of this, but only in areas such as the Oculus desktop. It’s been clear from the off, the ability to control what you are doing or even play games with a swipe of a finger, rather than a controller, as good as the Touch controllers are, will bring a whole new level of immersion. This opens us up to the next stage of VR development, the never-quite-pulled off previously, haptic gloves.

Now we have hand tracking we can move along the path of actually being able to feel and touch things. Exciting times and as much as we might not truly realize it yet, this is a big-time in VR.

May 28th has been earmarked for release of hand-tracking officially, and it will launch to mainstream Quest users with three experiences, including Waltz of the Wizard and Elixir, as well as a puzzle game called The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets.

The titles of the first two certainly suggest a little bit of Harry Potter-style action with you flinging spells and mixing up potions and the like.

The downside of all this if you want to get on board and haven’t got a Quest already, is that since lockdown began, they have been nigh on impossible to get hold of, having been sold out everywhere. The only way to get one seemingly being to constantly hit F5 on the Oculus website to try and catch one of their occasional limited restocks.

The Quest is certainly the most ‘out-there’ device in the Oculus stable, not needing a PC to run but in doing so, sacrificing the higher-end graphics and processing power that the Rift S has coupled up to your desktop gaming behemoth.

Facebook/Oculus have been dealing with that issue recently too with Oculus Link – a feature that lets you tether your Quest to your PC and play Rift games through it. The visual hardware still isn’t as hot as a Rift S, but the option of being able to play anywhere without a PC with the Quest or link it up is an enticing one.

Unfortunately, it was scuppered for a lot of people by something as simple as a USB cable. Many found that finding a USB cable that actually worked was the proverbial needle in a haystack with Amazon couriers fetching and carrying seemingly endless supplies of them back and forth while users tried to find a cable that was actually recognized by the system.

Anyway, that’s all been fixed too as of last week, and you can now use pretty much any USB cable to get it all to play nicely.

In one final bit of Oculus news in what has turned out to be a big month for VR, the Guardian system that, in theory, stops you hurting yourself in VR by falling not letting you faceplant into your wall with a plastic helmet on is getting a much-needed upgrade and will now automatically detect obstacles.

Punching through your expensive 4K monitor while playing Beat Saber should now hopefully be a thing of the past.

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Been around consoles and computers since his parents bought him a Mattel Intellivision. Spent over a decade as editor of popular print-based video games and computer magazines, including a market-leading PlayStation title. Has written tech content for GamePro, Official Australian Playstation Magazine, PlayStation Pro, Amiga Action, Mega Action, ST Action, GQ, Loaded, and the Daily Mirror. Twitter: @iampaulmcnally

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