Author James Doble

Date November 2017

Categories Technology, User Experience

How to simplify user interaction with the Oculus Touch

Small modifications to the Oculus Touch can improve a user’s experience by simplifying controls and preventing immersion-ruining mistakes.

Oculus Controller

At the start of 2017, Air Canada approached Neutral Digital to create a VR experience to promote their new 787 Dreamliner Business class seats. We designed the digital experience as well as providing the hardware, which would be shipped to international exhibitions and events and used by thousands of people around the world. You can see the project for yourself here.

During the testing of the experience, we encountered a continual issue – users would accidentally click the ‘Oculus Home’ button on the controllers. This was jarring for the users as it took them out of the experience, so we needed to find a workaround.

The process

The Oculus Touch controllers are designed with a button that allows access to Oculus Home – the ‘menu’ central to the Oculus Rift experience – at any time. Users often pressed this button accidentally while getting used to the experience and discovering the controls. Suddenly, without being aware of what they had done, they would be out of the experience, and to anyone observing it was also unclear whether there was any issue or whether this was simply part of the flow.

Our initial approach toward finding a solution was digital. We tried to disable the button inputs using a key remapper or through modifying the controls in Unreal Engine – the software we built the experience in. However, the manufacturer had ensured that the Home button could not be tampered with as it was seen as essential to the everyday use of the product for retail customers. This meant we had to pursue a physical solution.

Oculus Controller Caps

Initial ideas

Applying a cap to the face of the controller was the logical solution, and also brought the look in line with users’ expectations of an interactive installation – away from the ‘gamer aesthetic’ of the stock controller.

After a quick round of ideation and sketching, we used 3D software to mock up three designs that we found promising.
We produced quick, rough 3D prints of each design and had the mockups in hand overnight ready to evaluate on the controllers.

Oculus Controller Caps

Small batch manufacturing

We selected design #2 as we felt it more closely matched the aesthetic of the Oculus Touch controllers, and made a couple of minor adjustments to the height and joystick cutout before moving on to small batch manufacturing. This final iteration was printed on a Stratasys Objet500 Connex3 using VeroWhitePlus material. The high resolution of the prints combined with the rigidity of the material meant that, aside from the removal of the wax-based support material, only a minimal amount of filler primer and sanding was required to get a professional finish.

We applied layers of paint finished with a top coat of varnish. The caps were then attached to the controllers using a double-sided tape, allowing the caps to remain firmly fixed to the controllers while permitting easy access to the buttons if needed.

Oculus Controller

The outcome

So far the caps have been a part of several hundred public demos in Paris and Toronto. At this point we can say that the caps have significantly improved the usability of the controllers – it’s clear that the users are more easily able to partake in our experience with the simplified control scheme. We happily offer custom solutions such as these and are excited to see what the future holds for creating bespoke solutions for our clients. For additional details on the project, our case study can be read here.

We’re happy to announce that we are making these openly available to use with a Creative Commons licence. Visit this link to download the .stl files to 3D print your own. We have plans to improve these caps in the future so stay up-to-date with their progress by following us on Twitter @neutraldigital

Acknowledgements

Thanks to iMakr for their next-day 3D printing service which allowed us to get our prototypes in hand and make quick design decisions.

Also, thanks to Sandika Dhawan for the swift turnaround of our final 3D printed caps and her knowledge and tips on elevating them to a professional standard.