When Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) acquired Oculus VR for $2 billion in March, the virtual realty headset maker gained a lot of cash it could use to widen its horizons. One way it has decided to spend that money, according to a post on Oculus VR’s blog, is by acquiring an engineering firm called the Carbon Design Group. While Carbon Design may not be a household name, you’re probably familiar with its products. The company has done notable work for Microsoft by designing several of its major pieces of hardware, including the Xbox 360 controller and the Kinect motion control sensor.
Oculus’s announcement says: “As part of the deal, the team will officially become a key component of the product engineering group at Oculus, operating from the Carbon studio in the Seattle area. They’ll also be working closely with the Oculus R&D team based out of Redmond.” It also mentions that Oculus VR and the Carbon Design Group have been working for almost a year on “multiple unannounced projects.” It’s unclear what those products are, but we do know that Carbon Design will have at least some say in what the final version of the Oculus Rift headset will look like.
In a statement, Carbon Design’s creative director Peter Bristol said that, “From a design and engineering perspective, building the products that finally deliver consumer virtual reality is one of the most interesting and challenging problem sets ever.” He goes on to say, “This is an entirely open product category. With consumer VR at its inception, the physical architectures are still unknown — we’re on the cutting edge of defining how virtual reality looks, feels, and functions.”
Make no mistake: the Oculus Rift headset could use a revamped design. So far we’ve only seen pre-release builds of the hardware, but those have been large and boxy, and less appealing than Sony’s early builds of its VR headset, which looks more like a finished product even though it almost certainly lags behind in terms of total development time.
If any design team is up to the task of making great gaming hardware, though, it’s Carbon Design. Its Xbox 360 controller design was hugely successful, and widely considered the best controller ever made in its time. The 360 controller is so comfortable to use that even Sony borrowed many of its design elements for the PlayStation 4 controller. It completely nailed things like ergonomic placement of the analog sticks, curves that are perfectly shaped to fit your hands, and concave trigger buttons that offer an ideal amount of resistance. If Carbon Design can bring the same attention to detail to the Oculus Rift and its accessories, the future of virtual reality looks all the more bright.
Make no mistake: the final design of the Oculus Rift is integral to the device’s success. No one wants to strap an ugly, bulky box to their head while they play a game. If it’s not comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, hardcore gamers — the most likely early adopters of the headset — won’t want to use it, either. For a headset to reach the mass audience Facebook is hoping to reach with it, it’s going to need to be a sleek, attractive, light, comfortable piece of technology. If any company can make it the right way, it’s Carbon Design.