Valve's Mystery Hardware Project is "Wearable Computing," Developer Says

Have you ever had one of those moments where you're bracing yourself for a bang only to end up hearing a soft thud? I have. In fact, it just happened. I was excited when rumors started swirling around a "Steam Box" console Valve was reportedly working on, and while the company's marketing director, Doug Lombardi, essentially told us all to cool our jets, I found renewed excitement in the fact that Valve recently posted a job listing in search of electrical engineers to join a "highly motivated team that's doing hardware design." Was the Steam Box back on the table? And if not, was Valve working on something infinitely cooler? A real life gravity gun, perhaps? Sadly, no.

Valve developer Michael Abrash let the cat out of the bag in a blog post. So what exactly is this mystery project? Wearable computing (*thud*).

"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)," Abrash explains. "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."

Perhaps I'm being pessimistic, but such a thing already exists, and it's called real life. When you step outside -- which is where this wearable computing project comes into play -- there are already tons of objects and NPCs to interact with, destructible environments, and ultra high resolution graphics. To me, wearable computing sounds a bit hokey, but even if it didn't, we're talking about a technology that's a decade or more away. I would have preferred a Steam Box, not because I think the world needs yet another console, but because it could potentially get a whole new generation of console gamers excited about PC games, and because it's a realistic project. Wearable computing? By Abrash's own admission, it may never see the light of day.

"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," Abrash states.

What are your thoughts about wearable computing? Do you share my same grumpy attitude towards the technology, or do you see real promise here?