Get a grip on the Etee Controller: What it means to developers
By this point, you’ve likely heard talk of London start-up TG0’s Kickstarter for their unique Etee controller, and for good reason. Its minimalist, sleek design and core features are exciting, as well as it being one of the first high profile third party controller innovations.
The buttonless controller – yes, buttonless – does introduce a lot of unique features that push immersion in gaming even further:
To compensate for the lack of buttons, it tracks finger touch, proximity, and pressure. It’s lightweight, with the 6DoF version coming in at 120g compared to Oculus’s 169g for example. It’s customisable with a Windows interface letting you adjust sensitivity and key bindings, and much more.
It certainly has a lot going for it, and the Kickstarter has had a huge amount of success to reflect that.
But with most VR HMDs shipping with their own controller’s as standard, will the etee actually be worth developing for?
The Etee in depth
Before we dive into that big question, let’s ground ourselves in Etee’s full feature list.
- Buttonless with full open palm gesture sensing for all fingers.
- Thumb trackpad acting as a joystick.
- Designed to be lightweight: 3DoF (Dev Kit) weighs 75g, 6DoF (SteamVR) weighs 120g.
- 6 hours continuous use battery life, 14 hours standby.
- Fully sweat, water, and dust-resistant.
- Full colour LED.
- Next-gen haptic feedback.
- Bluetooth BLE 4.0
- 3DoF (DevKit) retails at £199, 6DoF (SteamVR at £259)
It’s also worth noting that the developer’s have stated that you’ll be able to buy the cheaper 3DoF controllers and attach your own HTC trackers if you want a lower price point 6DoF controller.
The biggest feature that Etee seems to have going for it is the ‘wow’ factor though. The admittedly biased Head of Business Development at Etee, Jakub Kamecki, said himself that “[he’s] never seen someone pick up an etee controller and fail to be wowed.” Given how many videos online there are showing new etee users being blown away, we think this statement likely holds water.
But is there an audience?
In many ways, these controllers are similar to the Valve Index knuckle controllers with their finger tracking and comparable price point, but TG0 is aiming at a different audience altogether.
In a Reddit Q & A, TG0 themselves said that the “advantage of [the etee’s] simplicity is that this opens up VR to casual, non-gamer users. There are benefits for accessibility where such a complex controller as the Valve Index may be a hindrance.”
This more casual focus does place the etee controllers in a whole other business space. The lightweight, sleek form factor and the gesture tracking isn’t really seen at an entry level VR level right now, and could be a nice step to drawing an even wider audience into immersive experiences in a way that gaming focused controllers like the Index’s may not be able to.
Of course the real challenge there is getting this more casual audience to commit to a controller at that price rather than the one the ships with their HMD. Especially as etee currently lacks official support for the Oculus and HTC headsets.
We can definitely see a future where artists, starting VR users, or users that have different accessibility needs would invest in a multi-platform third party controller like this. The initial audience will likely be more tech-minded than TG0 intend, but – given the success of their Kickstarter alone – the audience is there, and may grow more casual over time.
How is developing for the etee?
With that casual audience in mind, TG0 are committed to making the controllers plug-and-play as much as possible. As they’re being built on the open platform that is Steam VR, there’s a lot of customisation out of the box – from key bindings for gestures to adjustable pressure sensitivity.
Better still, beyond the native Steam VR compatibility, these customisation options come in the form of straightforward SDKs. Ease of use is once again clearly at TG0’s front of mind.
They currently offer the following SDKs and state in the Kickstarter that they “want you to extend and build on etee.”
- A Unity SDK
- A Python SDK
- A C++ SDK
They are also aiming to build an Android SDK and an Unreal SDK in the long term, so whatever your flavour of development the etee should be accessible to you.
TG0 is very keen to present the etee as more than just a VR controller though, offering developer support and low-level APIs for a lot of extended usages that you might want to toy with. Everything from drone control, to playing legacy 2D games, to medical and rehabilitative use.
This video is a nice example of how they intend the etee to be an accessible tool for many, many applications.
So who should be investing in the etee right now?
We are in an exciting time for immersive tech controllers, and we’re in a potentially fluid one. We are playing with everything from the Quest’s experimental hand tracking, to PSVR’s wands, and controllers like the etee among them mean that there is no set standard yet. But there will be one day.
The etee controllers are a brilliant step in figuring out VR’s future. They bring high-end features like the finger tracking of the Index and put them in an accessible form factor, with a focus on customisation and accessibility for the masses.
It’s impossible to say how much influence etee will have on the industry in the long term given everything we’ve spoken about here, but the answer to the above question is simple: If you see potential in this tech and in TG0’s vision, now is the time to try these controllers and develop for them. Push them as far as they can, and innovate. They have potential, and it’s the developers that support them that will reveal how much impact they’ll have.
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