Valve working on “wearable computing”

Valve has revealed it’s conducting research and development into “wearable computing”, which the company likens to “Terminator vision”.

Michael Abrash, who was formerly the GDI programming lead for the original version of Windows NT, co-authored Quake at id Software, worked on both Xbox consoles, and is currently focusing on R&D projects at Valve, wrote in a blog post: “By ‘wearable computing’ I mean mobile computing where both computer-generated graphics and the real world are seamlessly overlaid in your view; there is no separate display that you hold in your hands.”

Abrash believes wearable computing “has the potential to be… a technological inflection point after which everything has changed”.

He said: “The underlying trend as we’ve gone from desktops through laptops and notebooks to tablets is one of having computing available in more places, more of the time. The logical endpoint is computing everywhere, all the time – that is, wearable computing – and I have no doubt that 20 years from now that will be standard, probably through glasses or contacts, but for all I know through some kind of more direct neural connection.

“And I’m pretty confident that platform shift will happen a lot sooner than 20 years – almost certainly within 10, but quite likely as little as 3-5, because the key areas – input, processing/power/size, and output – that need to evolve to enable wearable computing are shaping up nicely, although there’s a lot still to be figured out.

“Of course, hardware is only as useful as the software running on it, and there’s a vast web of intertwined issues and questions to be resolved about how the combined hardware-software system might work. What does a wearable UI look like, and how does it interact with wearable input? How does the computer know where you are and what you’re looking at? When the human visual system sees two superimposed views, one real and one virtual, what will it accept and what will it reject? To what extent is augmented reality useful – and if it’s useful, to what extent is it affordably implementable in the near future? What hardware advances are needed to enable the software? And much, much more – there are deep, worthy challenges everywhere you look “

Abrash went on to stress that his work in this field is currently mainly focused on research. “It doesn’t in any way involve a product at this point, and won’t for a long while, if ever – so please, no rumors about Steam glasses being announced at E3. It’s an initial investigation into a very interesting and promising space, and falls more under the heading of research than development. The process is very fast-moving and iterative, and we’re just at the start. How far and where the investigation goes depends on what we learn.”

His blog post follows a recent Valve job ad which confirmed that the company is working on hardware with the aim of inventing “whole new gaming experiences”.