Does competition drive innovation? Most would agree it does. So does Valve's hardware engineer Alan Yates, at least in principle. Namely, earlier this week, Yates contributed to a Reddit thread discussing the possibility of Oculus Rift becoming bad for the VR industry by basically stating that Oculus copied the original prototype of the HTC Vive virtual reality headset. More specifically, Yates explained that while Oculus developed its own computer vision-based (CV) camera tracking and came up with an original fresnel lens design, the first consumer version of Rift "is otherwise a direct copy of the architecture of the 1080p Steam Sight prototype". The prototype in question was borrowed by Oculus back when Valve installed one of its "Valve Rooms" at their former headquarters in Irvine, California.
Yates finished his train of thought by saying he would describe Oculus as "the first SteamVR licensee," suggesting that history will probably come up with a different, far more revolutionary term for the Facebook-owned company. While Valve's hardware engineer was definitely not posting to reddit in any official capacity, it's still interesting to see the first signs of tensions between the currently largest VR players on the planet. That isn't to say the two aren't working with each other and third parties in order to popularize VR technology - for example, Oculus is doing quite a lot to bring more content to Samsung's Gear VR headset - but Yates' accusations are definitely not frivolous. Naturally, it's currently unknown whether he has a hidden agenda guiding his publicly voiced opinions or not, but when someone who was so closely involved in the development of SteamVR and HTC Vive accuses you of being a copycat, you should probably take notice. That's presumably exactly what Oculus will do, so expect to see the company's answer to Yates' aforementioned claims really soon.
Of course, it's also worth noting that Yates does admit to Oculus developing its own CV tracking, as well as coming up with a unique fresnel lens design for Rift, which isn't exactly insignificant. Once you take out the tracking aspect and the said flat lens made of concentric rings out of the device, what you get really is a relative copy of Valve's Steam Sight prototype, but the thing is - that's a pretty primitive prototype compared to what Rift is today. In other words, Yates' claims are just a tiny bit less harsh in reality than what they sound like at first.