The first time people try on the Oculus Rift, they tend to have two immediate reactions. First: “Whoa.” Second: “Wait, where’s my keyboard? Hold on. Are my fingers on the keys? Just a second. Okay, got it. Wait, lost it. Okay, here we go.”
As much as I dig the Oculus Rift (and, if you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you’d know: that’s a lot), I’ll admit that it has one rather annoying fault: the input devices we traditionally use to interact with computers aren’t quite up to snuff, here.
Keyboard and mouse? Once you put on the Rift, you can’t see a thing in the real world around you. Finding your mouse and keyboard (much less the good ol’ home row) becomes a pain.
Gestures (by pairing the Rift with something like the Kinect)? A reasonable option, but it lacks any sort of haptic/tactile feedback (read: the wonderful feeling that comes from actually pushing a button), and it suffers from the same problem as above: you’re blind to everything around you. Waving your arms around while wearing a VR headset is a quick way to end up smacking your monitor or knocking stuff off your desk.
Game controllers are a solid option — and, quite honestly, the way most people will probably interact with VR for at least the first few years. But for simple things — like, say, watching a movie — do you really want to have to bring a controller along?
One guys’s idea, demonstrated in his proof-of-concept video below: use the Rift itself as the controller. Now, the Rift — at least, in its current pre-release form — has no buttons… but it does have an accelerometer. With this hack, you’d move your head around to “look” at whatever you want to select, then “knock” on the headset to select it. An accelerometer built-in to the headset picks up your knock, and that gets translated into a button press.
Is it a perfect solution? Nah — at the very least, knocking on a big thing attached to your head is probably a bit jarring. But it’s pretty darn neat, and shows there’s still plenty of ways to think about input with regards to virtual reality.
(With that said: I do hope the final Rift has some sort of basic input mechanism built in, be it a button, or a touch sensitive panel, or something way more clever than anything I could think of. Oh, and a camera, for augmented reality. Oh! And a machine that prints money and tells me I’m great.)