Cheap and accurate close range positional tracker with SteamVR

Drones may take advantage in more than one way of the virtual reality buzz. Valve announced its Lighthouse positional tracking solution along with the HTC Vive, and more details are emerging about the inner working of the system. You can see above the tracking station. The two inner cylinders are rotating and project a horizontal and vertical laser line across the room. The LEDs visible on the PCB are probably for the synchronization signal. 

With IR detectors on an object, is is possible to determine the position of the object using precise timing and trigonometry. Valve claims sub millimeter accuracy. The tracking station is dumb, meaning that it only projects the laser lines at a precise interval. You could add a few IR detectors on a drone and with the right interrupt based algorithm, even a 25$ Multiwii board running on the Atmega32u4 could position accurately a drone within a given space. 

For drones, it means:

  • Very low processing cost (simple trigonometry, can be done on board)
  • Unlimited number of markers and object tracked
  • Cheap hardware (consumer level prices)
  • Limited tracking (15m by 15m)

I think it is exciting news for research labs and enthusiasts. The system could provide the same level of accuracy as the $25k+ camera tracking systems. It will speed up development until full ultra precise embedded SLAM is available. I am looking forward to see the first reverse engineering post about the device protocol! Micro drones will navigate precisely inside a house.

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Comment by benbojangles on March 23, 2015 at 8:23pm

I think limited tracking space (15m x 15m) makes this an expensive experiment.

...Now, mounting the laser unit onto the UAV.....

Comment by Gary McCray on March 23, 2015 at 8:23pm

Looks like direct competition for the Oculus Rift with better displays and more comprehensive direction and position tracking.

And with Steam's (Steam came out of getting the Half Live 2 code ripped off from Bungee (the Half Life originators) by Russian Hackers).

They have very heavy involvement in video games and could progress very quickly.

Steam was also the first one to integrate a serious video game "Half Life 2" with the Oculus and it is still by far the most significant game so interfaced.

I am sure that experience is not lost in this development.

Although others are entering this VR realm, at this time only Oculus and possibly this Steam effort really have the capability for top flight full immersion VR or FPV.

Comment by Thomas Stone on March 23, 2015 at 10:08pm

Very cool. Thanks for sharing!

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