Near parallel to the time Apple CEO Tim Cook was discretely shuffling through the halls of Valve Software‘s Washington offices (for reasons still shrouded in mystery), word began creeping out about yet another Valve research project – one that, as we’re now discovering, has the potential to cement the influential creators of Half-Life and Steam as major power players in the technology and computing industry.
It started with early reports on Friday affirming the widely-popular notion that Valve was ready to stake its claim in the hardware business. The company’s jobs page had begun seeking candidates for an experienced electronics engineer who could help them “invent whole new gaming experiences.”
What was defined as a “whole new gaming experience”? At first, no one knew. It’s tempting to revisit March’s once-sizzling-but-now-fizzling rumors regarding the mysterious “Steam-Box,” a PC game-compatible console that, theoretically, ran Steam. An in-home product would be a logical step towards linking Valve’s popular digital distribution service with a broader market, and uniting the PC-console user base could prove immensely profitable.
Valve being Valve, however, they appear to have their minds set on a more unique experience.
The company is hiring engineers to design prototypes for “wearable computing,” technology that syncs real-world visual input with computer generated graphics, according to a blog posting by Valve developer Michael Abrash.
Here’s just a small sliver from Abrash’s rather extensive piece – one that details his entire history of working at Valve:
“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.”
The concept sounds awfully familiar to Google’s ‘Project Glass’ heads-up display, but Abrash wouldn’t delve into specifics on aesthetic elements. He did warn the public not to jump to conclusions, and stated that Valve is purely in the research and development phase of the project right now – not a phase where production plans have already been undertaken, or even drawn up:
“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 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.”
If there’s anything we’ve learned throughout the rumor- and conjecture-fests that so often typify a Valve operation, it’s that the company loves to play around. Not just in the public relations sense of trolling its fanbase about Half-Life 2: Episode 3 or Half-Life 3, but also in the innovation sense; in the spirit of devising new technology and pushing the boundaries of the industry.
With the time frame Abrash layed out, we’re guessing Valve has a lot of other business to poke away at in the meantime (particularly regarding the Half-Life and Portal franchises), but we wish the project well and can’t wait to see where it ends up.
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