Image Credit: Boumen Japet

Fresh off years of struggles, Meta is still forging ahead with its push into virtual reality. Predicting VR to be the way of the future, this ongoing investment has resulted in results from the impressive to the not-so-much. One of the company’s most recent breakthroughs, which stands out as one of the most portentous, is the arrival of a new hand-tracking feature. With this system, Meta-enabled devices can use external cameras and scanners to track hand movement, bypassing the requirements of controllers for input. The potential for hand-tracking technology could be immense, at least in some simple cases.

Hand Tracking Done Right

Humans require tactile feedback for complex input, as decades of work and entertainment on keyboards and controllers have taught us. There are many instances in software where simple and effective UI can reduce complex demands, however, which is often demonstrated by apps. Because apps can be so well focussed, they’re often more straightforward than the services which contain them, as demonstrated by the slots online experience.

Releases like Lost Relics and Dragon’s Temple have key options to sort through, so fast reflexes and precision aren’t musts. These games have also already proven themselves on smartphones and tablets, where the limited control of touch screens has been demonstrated not to be an issue. In such uses, hand tracking could be a simple streamlined step up.

More Complexity and More Problems

The most famous examples of what hand tracking could do come from the world of science fiction. Movies like Minority Report feature a kind of free-air hand control system, which looks amazing on the big screen. In the real world, however, anything complex needs a quick and constant point of reference. Sure, casino games don’t, but they only need a few big button presses, whereas typing requires dozens of smaller keys. Keyboards can be used without looking down, but only thanks to more static resting hand positions, and the little bumps on the F and J keys.

Some of the issues with hand-tracking controls could be overcome with practice, but in most cases, they’ll always be bad fits for many uses. They might be perfect for simple entertainment like casino games and sorting through movies, but that’s about it. Most of us have experienced difficulty even getting a phone screen to properly notice that it’s been reoriented, perhaps the simplest use of object tracking that is still somehow notoriously error-prone.

The Next Step

Just because hand tracking can be limited in Meta’s implementation doesn’t mean it’s without solutions for more complex systems. For more complex controls in VR, haptic feedback gloves are being designed to provide users with real physical feedback, giving a better frame of reference for what they’re doing. Though still in their early days, such systems could extend the use of immersive VR controls beyond the likes of casino games and media management, and into work uses too.

Meta’s quest toward the VR space isn’t going to stop, and while hand tracking is hardly a complete solution, it’s not meant to be. Instead, hand tracking marks a simple tool that’s going to be necessary when VR pushes further into the mass market. It’s a matter of time, and when it does arrive, we’ll be glad the company went through these experiments.