Electronics Design – Virtual Reality Game Controller

One of the first third-party devices developed using the Steam VR HDK

Client – Blackbox VR – a fast-growing fitness equipment startup

“SGW Designworks was instrumental in making our product a reality. We knew what we wanted our product to be, but we needed to take it from a concept to reality. SGW’s iterative and collaborative approach worked really well for development of the system hardware, which allowed our internal team to focus on the software side of the project and on the business. We’re looking forward to our next project with SGW Designworks.”


Expertise Applied


Black Box VR needed a way to track user’s hands in 3D space during a virtual reality workout session.


At the time, no hardware existed that was track-able by the HTC Vive VR system other than the HTC controllers. Since users would be holding the weight machine handles during the workout, a tracking device that attaches to the user’s arms would have to be developed.

Industrial Design BBVR 2
Arm-mounted VR Tracker

Results / Outcomes

  • Sixteen fully functional units produced for CES 2018
  • The overall system was recognized with a CES Innovation Award, and the client won Best Startup of CES from engadget.com


A Bold Vision, A Completely New Product Concept

Black Box VR is developing a fully immersive virtual reality gym experience and hired SGW Designworks as their product design company to develop multiple hardware elements of the system. Internal BlackBox teams had a clear vision for the system and for the market. Their internal teams also had full software development capabilities. They decided to look to an outside product development firm for help with the hardware elements of the project.

The project consisted of multiple development efforts, all running in parallel. The primary load resistance system that is controlled by the VR system was the most complex hardware element. It required complete mechanical design for complex industrial equipment. The system was developed by SGW Designworks, but the design includes significant intellectual property, and cannot be shared publicly. A smaller ancillary device also presented interesting challenges to the product design team at SGW Designworks. The Smart Hands device is a wearable controller, tracked in VR (HTC Vive system, Steam VR), and allows the system to ‘know’ where the user’s arms are located in space. This also allows the user to see the location of their own hands in virtual space, without the need to grasp a controller in the hands. The project involved a full redesign of existing HTC Vive controller PCBA’s, full mechanical design, and industrial design, multiple prototype iterations, and iterative development of sensor placement and orientation to achieve reliable tracking in VR. Design iteration focused on the placement of IR sensors to achieve exceptional tracking in VR, as well as form factor optimization and wear-ability. This project started with a redesign and reconfiguration of the existing HTC Vive controller circuitry. While the SGW Designworks embedded systems group was working on that, two mechanical engineers were starting to devise possible enclosure configurations, and collaborating on aesthetics with the client. Next, the electronics and shape work were integrated into the preliminary design, which served as the basis for initial physical prototypes. Three engineers focused on design iteration and rapid prototype cycles, leading to a design suitable for external use. Later stages will focus on cost optimization and integration of design changes based on external testing.

vr tracker exploded
Exploded view of the VR tracker

Black Box VR made their public debut with they complete system at CES 2018, using prototypes built by SGW Designworks. Right away, the virtual gym got the attention of industry professionals and the press. Over 1,000 people used the system at CES, without a breakdown. Black Box VR won a covetted CES Innovation Award, and was awarded “Best Startup of CES 2018” from engadget.com. By engaging SGW Designworks, BlackBox VR was able to make rapid development progress, without the risk of hiring a full internal engineering staff. SGW Designworks is able to grow and shrink the development team as needed based on project needs.

CES Award Winning Prototype
CES Award Winning Prototype
Hardware Developed Technologies Leveraged
PCBA – 8 Layer LayoutSteam VR HDK
Sensor Placement SchemeAltium Designer
Sensor Mounting FeaturesSolidworks 3D Modeling
Enclosure Design for 3D PrintingStratasys uPrint SE Plus
Complete Functional Prototypes