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The Oculus Quest VR headset will get controller-free hand tracking this week

Oculus is rolling out native hand tracking to the Quest, its standalone virtual reality headset, starting this week. Previously expected to arrive sometime in 2020, hand tracking will be available as an experimental feature in software version “v12” in the coming days. Once this update is installed, you can turn on hand tracking in the “Experimental Features” menu. Then, you can switch between Touch controllers and hand tracking with a toggle switch in the Oculus Home menu.

Before you get too excited, there won’t be much support for hand tracking at launch. Oculus notes that the headset’s Library and Store interfaces and the Oculus Browser and Oculus TV apps will work, but that’s it for now. It plans to release the developer toolset for hand tracking to app makers next week, so hopefully it won’t take too long for support to pick up on current apps and games and upcoming ones down the line.

Despite this, moving forward with hand tracking is a big deal. Thus far, in order to incorporate your hands in VR, Oculus and other headset makers have relied on controllers, each with their own confusing button layout and sometimes requiring external cameras and tracking devices to track your hand movements in the virtual space.

Oculus is able to incorporate your hands in VR on the Quest without needing anything but the Touch controllers, thanks to the headset’s inside-out tracking a system, a set of built-in cameras and sensors that identify where your body and hands are in a virtual space in relationship to the headset.

According to a Facebook blog post from September, Oculus is also able to now reliably track hands without the controllers using the same set of hardware, thanks to “new techniques in deep learning and model-based tracking.” Effectively, Oculus is saying it no longer needs the Touch controllers to perform hand tracking, and, in fact, it can even perform more precise and realistic tracking of your individual finger moments by letting you just use your hands as you normally would.

Pushing this feature out now opens the door for the next wave of games and apps that support hand and fine-tuned finger gestures. But more important for Oculus, it should give the company a running start against competing VR platforms that still rely on controllers, like Valve’s new high-end Index headset and HTC’s family of Vive devices.

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