A Minority Report Arduino-Based Hand Controller

Movies love to show technology they can’t really build yet. Even in 2001: A Space Oddessy (released in 1968), for example, the computer screens were actually projected film.  The tablet they used to watch the news looks like something you could pick up at Best Buy this afternoon. [CircuitDigest] saw Iron Man and that inspired him to see if he could control his PC through gestures as they do on that film and so many others (including Minority Report). Although he calls it “virtual reality,” we think of VR as being visually immersed and this is really just the glove, but it is still cool.

The project uses an Arduino on the glove and Processing on the PC. The PC has a webcam which tracks the hand motion and the glove has two Hall effect sensors to simulate mouse clicks. Bluetooth links the glove and the PC. You can see a video of the thing in action, below.

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You’re the Only One not Playing with Unity

It wasn’t too long ago that one could conjecture that most hackers are not avid video game players. We spend most of our free time taking things apart, tinkering with microcontrollers and reading the latest [Jenny List] article on Hackaday.com. When we do think of video games, our neurons generally fire in the direction of emulating a console on a single board computer, such as a Raspberry Pi or a Beaglebone. Or even emulating the actual console processor on an FPGA. Rarely do we venture off into 3D programs meant to make modern video games. If we can’t export an .STL with it, we’re not interested. It’s just not our bag.

Oculus Rift changed this. The VR headset was originally invented for 3D video games, but quickly became a darling to hackers the world over. Virtual Reality technology is far bigger than just video games, and brings opportunity to many fields such as real estate, construction, product visualization, education, social interaction… the list goes on and on.

The Oculus team got together with the folks over at Unity in the early days to make it easy for video game makers to make content for the Rift. Unity is a game engine designed with a shallow learning curve and is available for free for non-commercial use. The Oculus Rift can be integrated into a Unity environment with the check of a setting and importing a small package, available on the Oculus site. This makes it easy for anyone interested in VR technology to get a Rift and start pumping out content.

Hackers have taken things a step further and have written scripts that allow Unity to communicate with an Arduino. VR is fun. But VR plus physical reality is just down right exciting! In this article, we’re going to walk you through setting up your Oculus Rift and Unity game engine to communicate with the outside world via an Arduino.

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Simulating VR Obstacles with Wheelchair Brakes

[Joey Campbell] is studying for his PhD at the Bristol Interaction and Graphics Lab, focusing on the interplay between real and virtual objects within the realm of exergaming–“gamercising” where physical motion and effort drives the game. The goal is to make the physical effort seem to correspond with what’s seen on the headset.

[Joey] set up a test rig where an exercise bike’s gears were adjusted based on the terrain encountered, seeking to find out if that realism inspired a greater feeling of immersion. He also provided some test subjects a HUD with their heart rate and other stats, to see if that encouraged gamers to exercise more.

In his current project, [Joey] has equipped a wheelchair with a pair of Arduino-controlled servos that squeeze the brakes to simulate an obstacle. In the VR realm, a player pushes the wheelchair toward a virtual block and the brakes engage, requiring the player push harder to bypass the obstacle.

One imagines the possibilities of games designed for specifically for wheelchairs. The Eyedrivomatic wheelchair that won the 2015 Hackaday Prize sounds perfect for the job!

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VR and Back Again: An XRobots Tale

Our friend [James Bruton] from XRobots has engaged in another bit of mixed-reality magic by showing how one can seamlessly step from the virtual world into the real world, and back again. Begone, green screens and cumbersome lighting!

Now, most of what you’re seeing is really happening in post-production — for now — but the test footage is the precursor for a more integrated system down the road. As it works now, a GoPro is attached to the front of a HTC Vive headset, allowing [Bruton] to record in both realities at the same time. In the VR test area he has set up is a portal to a virtual green room — only a little smaller than a wardrobe — allowing him to superimpose the GoPro footage over everything he looks at through that doorway, as well as everything surrounding him when he steps through. Unfortunately, [Bruton] is not able to see where he’s going if he is to wear the headset, so he’s forced to hold it in one hand and move about the mixed-reality space. Again, this is temporary.

In action — well, it gets a little surreal when he starts tossing digital blocks through the gateway ‘into’ the real world.

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VR Mech’s Missing Link: The Phone in Your Pocket

In the process of making a homemade Mech Combat game that features robot-like piloted tanks capable of turning the cockpit independent of the direction of movement, [Florian] realized that while the concept was intuitive to humans, implementing it in a VR game had challenges. In short, when the body perceives movement but doesn’t feel the expected acceleration and momentum, motion sickness can result. A cockpit view that changes independently of forward motion exacerbates the issue.

To address this, [Florian] wanted to use a swivel chair to represent turning the Mech’s “hips”. This would control direction of travel and help provide important physical feedback. He was considering a hardware encoder for the chair when he realized he already had one in his pocket: his iPhone.

By making an HTML page that accesses the smartphone’s Orientation API, no app install was needed to send the phone’s orientation to his game via a WebSocket in Unity. He physically swivels his chair to steer and is free to look around using the VR headset, separate from the direction of travel. Want to try it for yourself? Get it from [Florian]’s GitHub repository.

A video is embedded below, but if you’re interested in details be sure to also check out [Florian]’s summary of insights and methods for avoiding motion sickness in a VR Mech cockpit.

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Your VR Doesn’t Stink (Yet)

What does it smell like when the wheels heat up on that Formula 1 car you drive at night and on the weekends? You have no idea because the Virtual Reality experience that lets you do so doesn’t come with a nasal component. Yet.

Shown here is an olfactory device that works with Oculus Rift and other head-mounted displays. The proof of concept is hte work of [Kazuki Hashimoto], [Yosuke Maruno], and [Takamichi Nakamoto] and was shown of at last year’s IEEE VR conference. It lets the wearer smell the oranges when approaching a tree in a virtual environment. In other words, it makes your immersive experience smelly.

As it stands this a pretty cool little device which atomizes odor droplets while a tiny fan wafts them to the wearer’s nose. There is a paper which presumably has more detail but it’s behind a pay wall so for now check out the brief demo video below. Traditionally an issue with scent systems is the substance stuck in the lines, which this prototype overcomes with direct application from the reservoir. Yet to be solved is the availability for numerous different scents.

This build came to our attention via an UploadVR article that does a good job of covering some of the scent-based experiments over the years. They see some of the same hurdles we do: odors linger and there is a limited palette that can be produced. We assume the massive revenue of the gaming industry is going to drive research in this field, but we won’t be lining up to smell gunpowder and dead bodies (or rotting zombies) anytime soon.

The more noble effort is in VR applications like taking the elderly and immobile back for another tour of places they’ll never again be able to visit in their lives. Adding the sense of smell, which has the power to unlock so many memories, makes that use case so much more powerful. We think that’s something everyone can be hopeful about!

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Take A Bicycle Tour Anywhere In The World

Imagine yourself riding through the countryside of Tuscany in the morning, then popping over to Champagne for a tour in the evening without taking a plane ride in the intermission. In fact, you don’t have to leave your living room. All you need is a stationary bicycle, a VR headset, and CycleVR.

[Aaron Puzey] hasn’t quite made the inter-country leap quite like that, but he has cycled the entire length of the UK, from its southern point to its northernmost tip. The 1500km journey took 85 hours over the course of eight months to complete.

CycleVR is actually a VR app created using Unity. It takes advantage of Google street view’s panoramic image data, using Bluetooth to monitor the cycling pace  and transition between the panorama capture points. So, the static images of pedestrians and cars clipping and distorting as the panorama images load might throw off the illusion at first, but there’s thousands of side streets and country roads out there where this won’t be as pronounced. Check out the highlight reel from [Puzey]’s journey after the break.

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