|Photo: Elliot Williams|
We all know what VR is, right? It’s that trope in sci-fi where you’re stuck in the Matrix, unable to tell that you’re not actually in the real world."
|Photo: Hackaday Blog|
All of your senses are simulated so well that you’re fooled into generating power for the hive mind. [David] has slightly more realistic goals.
For [David], it’s about immersion. And the gold standard for him is that immersive VR makes you act as if the VR world were real. It’s not that you can’t tell the difference between the real and the virtual, but that you behave in and react to the VR world in the same ways that you would to the real. If you’re engaged, the VR experience is a success.
If the goal is a VR world that helps train military or pilots to operate their machines and work in teams, does it matter that they can’t actually tell what the inside of a tank smells like? Instead, what’s important is that the “sensorimotor contingencies” are right — that what you’re doing affects the world in the right ways. In the earliest Oculus Rift headsets, for instance, they only tracked motion with a gyro, so you could look around the world as if you were in a fishbowl. But when you strafed (moved your head side to side) it wouldn’t react. Later versions fixed that, and became significantly more immersive.
But VR is not all about the hardware. How the scenarios are crafted and even the quality of the art matter a lot. In one of the more poetic moments of the talk, [David] insisted that you should be able to leave footprints in the sand. He was talking about how the user changes the virtual world, but he’s equally interested in how the VR world changes the user.
In all of these metrics, VR has made tremendous progress in the last decade, and [David] thinks it’s going to continue. What made this all possible? Affordable VR headsets. When a VR headset cost $60,000 per unit, no matter how immersive the experience was, nobody was going to use it for teaching children, or as therapy for stroke patients. With cell-phone-based units as cheap as $10, the landscape is dramatically different.
For [David], the Oculus Rift was the breakthrough device, because it demonstrated that there was market demand for a “cheap” VR device and encouraged other companies to make competing products...
Now that VR headsets are ubiquitous and cheap, what’s next on the horizon? It’s no secret that VR is going to be dominated by gaming for the next decade. But [David] has hopes for other uses as well: using VR to make us better artists, engineers, builders, and makers. VR will also have a role in education, as people can take tours and interact with machines that they never could in real life.
[David]’s fear about the future of VR is that, as the major gaming companies fight to segment up the industry, it will lead to walled gardens. If you want to play Sony’s games, you need to buy their headset, pay for the games in their store, and essentially confine yourself to their world — and contributing to their bottom line.
But if we can avoid falling into that trap, [David] sees a lot of new and interesting opportunities for VR. You know how sometimes you have to walk back downstairs to remember what you were thinking about when you were in the kitchen? That “context-dependent memory” is an interesting area of VR research. There’s a lot to learn about people in VR: how people interact with virtual characters, and what that says about our ideas of personal space. And there are opportunities for therapy. [David]’s lab does work with stroke victims, testing if moving their arms in a VR world can help them to regain control over their own real limbs.
Then there are open avenues in making VR itself better. [David]’s lab did some especially neat work integrating stop-motion animation into a VR context. It turns out that the real-world textures, lighting, and other cues can help make objects seem more real than just a collage of polygons would. And one of the coolest applications was actually an extension of the cardboard viewer: a 3D printed overlay for a tablet computer that allows the top third of the screen to function as a shareable VR platform, while the lower part is visible by everyone in a small group. This “casual VR”, where people can pass the tablet around without having to strap on invasive headsets, promises to make the technology a much better fit for ad-hoc group collaboration.
Source: Hackaday Blog