We brought you word on Friday that Valve may be getting more serious about hardware than previously thought. The company was looking for hardware engineers with the job descriptions making it sound like game consoles. While that’s a pretty good and still valid theory, there’s been another development which makes things far more interesting.
Valve has recently started up a company employee blog. These are always a good place to get the latest on company news and what they’re working on. Imagine my surprise when one of the first posts is about Valve’s hardware ambitions with the employee talking about “wearable computing.” While the entirety of the blog post is really interesting and features a good inside look at how Valve operates, we’re really interested in this bit for now:
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 (think Terminator vision). 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.
Woah, that’s pretty crazy. From this paragraph alone, it looks like Valve, or at least this employee, is working on some kind of Google Glasses. Could this be the hardware that the company is hiring engineers for? Could this be the future for Valve? Not likely. You see, most people who reported on this saw fit only to read this paragraph and then go running off exclaiming that Valve was making some kind of “Steam Glasses.” Well, if they read just a few more paragraphs down, they would see this:
To be clear, this is R&D – 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 Valve approach is to do experiments and see what we learn – failure is fine, just so long as we can identify failure quickly, learn from it, and move on – and then apply it to the next experiment. 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.
It also depends on who’s doing the investigation. The team has grown, and we’re making good headway, but there’s a vast amount of stuff to investigate, and we need more smart people. Lots more smart people. Hardware people, software people, firmware people, game people, UI people, just plain great programmers and problem solvers, industrial designers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, systems programmers, computer vision people, optics engineers, you name it.
So yes, Valve is working on wearable computing, and yes, they are hiring for this project. The issue is that Valve is working on multiple projects at once all the time. They are in a sense like Google in that they have a hand in a lot of different technologies at once. The hiring post could be for this, but I doubt it. I could be wrong as well though, and Valve will have us playing Half-Life with our minds via contact lenses.
On a side note, people seem to be thinking that Valve may be teaming up with Apple on this technology. It was confirmed through Apple Insider that Apple CEO Tim Cook visited Valve last week. Could it be about the technology or something else? My best guess is that it’s more about Valve upping their support for Mac gaming. Steam is already available on Mac and Valve is pushing the platform, but there’s still not a lot of adoption. This could be seen as a move on Apple’s part to get more serious about gaming.
All of this is just rumor and speculation for now though. Don’t go thinking that Valve is making Google Glasses or that Apple is going to team up with Valve for some kind of Steam-exclusivity deal. If it happens, it happens. Let’s just not jump to conclusions for now, because Valve doesn’t need that kind of publicity. They need to finish Half-Life 3 before doing anything else.
Do you think Valve is making wearable computers a reality, or is it just R&D as the author suggests? Do you think Apple wants to be involved with this technology as well? Let us know in the comments.