Valve Software, the company behind the Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Portal, and Left 4 Dead series; as well as the game distribution and social network service Steam, has been rumored to be working on hardware development for some time. The speculation, then, was that Valve would develop a console for the next generation based on the Steam distribution system.
But that’s not happening. Instead, their new hardware engineers are working on something else. According to a blog post from Valve programmer and developer Michael Abrash, their project is wearable computing.
The blog post tells the story of Abrash’s career at Valve, as well his early years at Microsoft, Intel, and id. He also reveals details about a future project: wearable computing.
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.
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 sounds like this project is even less of a reality as Google’s Project Glass, especially given Valve’s notoriously long delays. Abrash, however, remains confident that such projects will realize themselves soon, meaning we might be fighting imaginary headcrabs in public soon with our Valve computer-clothes.