Oculus VR scoops up experts in hand tracking and capturing reality

Oculus VR, a virtual reality company owned by Facebook, announced it bought two companies that could help expand one of the most anticipated game systems in recent memory.

Jae C. Hong/AP/File
Show attendees play a video game wearing Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets at the Intel booth at the International Consumer Electronics Show(CES), in Las Vegas on Jan. 7. LG announced it will pair a low-tech VR headset with its LG G3 handset in a new promotion.

Strapping on an Oculus virtual reality handset is a cool experience. But the Oculus Rift is currently confined to a video experience. You can't interact with the virtual world without a controller in hand or through head movements. That's all about to change.

Oculus VR, creators of the Oculus Rift headset, bought Nimble VR, which built a hand-tracking system to allow users to interact with virtual worlds. Nimble Sense uses depth sensing cameras to track a user's hands in a virtual reality setting. This could be a big breakthrough that turns Oculus Rift from a cool game experience into something closer to true virtual reality. 

"Oculus Rift brought your eyes and head into VR, we are bringing your hands," says Robert Wang, one of Nimble's co-founders, in a Kickstarter video launched in October. The Kickstarter campaign, which raised more than $135,000 in pledges, was cancelled shortly before Oculus announced the sale. "We believe that bringing your hands into VR, without gloves, markers, or controllers, is part of the ultimate solution for input."

Oculus VR also purchased 13th Lab, a company that is working to create real-time 3-D models of the world. "The ability to acquire accurate 3-D models of the real-world can enable all sorts of new applications and experiences, like visiting a one-to-one 3-D model of the pyramids in Egypt or the Roman Colosseum in VR," Oculus VR stated in a blog post.

Oculus VR was founded by Palmer Luckey, a engineering prodigy who built his first virtual reality headset in high school. In 2012, and only 19-years-old, Mr. Luckey raised $2.4 million on Kickstarter to fund development of his VR headset. In March, Facebook bought the company for $2 billion. Oculus Rift headsets are expected to be released sometime in 2015.

The biggest use of the technology is expected to be gaming, which is why the purchase of Nimble is so important. It allows users to interact with the virtual world with their hands and not a controller. A number of companies are already working to create games for the virtual system. Game maker Frontier Developments is working to develop an Oculus Rift version of the space adventure game, Elite: Dangerous.

"Our galaxy is filled with incredible sights,” Eddie Symons, a producer on the game told The Guardian. “Seeing these things recreated in an immersive virtual reality experience is the closest any of us will ever come to experiencing those real wonders."

The acquisition of Nimble and 13th Lab could add the last puzzle pieces to turn Oculus Rift from a virtual reality screen to a full virtual reality experience. 

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