This modular SteamVR controller was exactly what I wanted

An ergonomics specialist specializing in XR has spent years creating an all-new SteamVR controller that is both modular and repairable in an effort to address many of the issues with existing VR headsets and controllers made by Valve, HTC, and others.

A modular controller makes it possible to upgrade components over time or add accessories at a more affordable price than the cost of a completely separate controller. It’s a smart idea to design for upgrades rather than trying to fit components around an unforgiving, single-purpose device.

Two versions of Project Modular SteamVR controllers

After recycling several defective Valve Index controllers under warranty, Rob Cole began to worry about e-waste. The cost of repairing a VR controller quickly approaches the cost of a completely new unit, and is done this way far more often than warranty issues are addressed. Cole would send the broken controller back for recycling and a shiny new controller would arrive from Valve.

Sounds good, but even the cost of sending two full controllers to fix a broken trigger is wasteful. Cole decided to create a new repairable SteamVR controller, and the modular design was a side benefit that made it even more appealing.

The first release, Project Caliper, was described in a 2021 blog post by VR consultant SkarredGhost. It was hugely popular and Cole was very enthusiastic about continuing the project. Unfortunately, it was stopped early due to potential legal challenges.

A whole year has passed and Cole has not been idle. A new controller design has since been released by SkarredGhost that shows off a unique prototype that looks even better than the previous one. Known as Project Modular, the core consists of a Tundra SteamVR hardware development kit (HDK) and a rechargeable lithium battery that manages the critical motion tracking process.

As with any controller, various buttons, switches, haptic motor, cables and connectors complete the design. What’s unique about the Project Modular controller is that it’s not crammed into a hard plastic shell that makes it nearly impossible to access components. Instead there are two rails that provide structure and the handle wraps around for comfort.

Here are all the components in the Project Modular prototype.

You won’t be able to order it this year, but Cole has already gone through several prototype iterations and is quite happy with the mechanics, comfort and accessibility. However, there is more work to be done. The next big challenge is finding a replacement for the Tundra HDK, which is apparently hard to order.

Cole is demanding a new open standard for XR controllers and is eager to collaborate with like-minded developers and companies. For more information, reach out to Cole through his website Immersion Mechanics.

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