Facebook to Buy Oculus VR

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Facebook has agreed to purchase Oculus VR. The press values the deal at about $2 Billion USD in cash and stock. This is great news for Oculus’ investors. The rest of the world has a decidedly different opinion. [Notch], the outspoken creator of Minecraft, was quick to tweet that a possible rift port has now been canceled, as Facebook creeps him out. He followed this up with a blog post.

I did not chip in ten grand to seed a first investment round to build value for a Facebook acquisition.

Here at Hackaday, we’ve been waiting a long time for affordable virtual reality. We’ve followed Oculus since the early days, all the way up through the recent open source hardware release of their latency tester. Our early opinion on the buyout is not very positive. Facebook isn’t exactly known for contributions to open source software or hardware, nor are they held in high regard for standardization in their games API. Only time will tell what this deal really means for the Rift.

The news isn’t all dark though. While Oculus VR has been a major catalyst for virtual reality displays, there are other players. We’ve got our eggs in the castAR basket. [Jeri, Rick] and the rest of the Technical Illusions crew have been producing some great demos while preparing CastAR for manufacture. Sony is also preparing Project Morpheus. The VR ball is rolling. We just hope it keeps on rolling – right into our living rooms.

Remembering the Future – SciFi Novel Tech Seen at SXSW

Remember the days when the future was console cowboys running around cyberspace trying to fry each other’s brains out? MIT Media Lab remembers too. They have a class called MAS S65: Science Fiction to Science Fabrication in which students are trying to create hardware inspired by technology imagined in the works of legendary Speculative Fiction writers such as William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and many others. They happened to be at SXSW this year showing off some of the projects their students have been working on. Since we were around, we thought we should pay them a little visit. Fifteen minutes later it was clear why working at Media Lab is a dream for so many hackers/makers out there.

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Jon Ferguson from Media Lab showed us a prototype of a game called Case and Molly, inspired by scenes in Neuromancer in which Case helps Molly navigate, by observing the world through vision-enhancing lenses sealed in her eye sockets. OK, they haven’t really build surgically-attached internet-connected lenses (yet.. we’re certain[Ben Krasnow] is working on it), but they have built a very cool snap-on 3D vision mechanism that attaches to the built-in iPhone camera. Add a little bit of live video streaming, a person with Oculus Rift and a game controller and you can party like it’s 1984.

mandala1Another interesting project is called “Mandala : I am building E14″ and it uses data collected from a sensor network in MIT E14 in order to provide a view of the universe from the standpoint of a single building. It tries to address the old “what if buildings could talk?” question by visualizing the paths of people walking around the building and providing an overall sense of activity in different areas. It is also a pretty good demonstration of all the creepy things that are yet to be built using all the ‘connected devices’ coming our way.

sensory fiction1It gets better. The Sensory Fiction project is a special book that comes with a vest which enhances the reader’s experience by providing stimulation that causes the reader to experience the same kind of physiological emotions as the characters in the book. The wearable that you have to put on supports a whole bunch of outputs: light, sound, temperature, pressure and vibration that can influence your heart rate. It is very easy to imagine so many potential ‘creative’ abuses of such a device.

limbo1Another Neuromancer-inspired piece, called LIMBO (Limbs In Motion By Others) allows synchronization of hand gestures between multiple ‘users’ over a network using a special electric muscle stimulation rig. The result is a sort of ‘meat puppet’ – one person’s hand being forced to match movement of the other. Devious ideas aside, it has great potential in helping paraplegic control their muscle movement using eye tracking.

bubblesynth5Finally, a more cheerful project called BubbleSynth demonstrates an open computer vision/sound synthesis platform using physical processes as input to granular synthesis. The current installation is based on a bubble generating machine and motion tracking as a trigger for a modular synthesizer resulting in beautiful ambient sounds. The audio part of the platform is based on SuperCollider and is completely customizable. The next iteration of the project will be using movement of a species of bacteria in order to generate the music. Why struggle learning how to play an instrument?  We’ll get bacteria do all the work.

Feel like building something similar? Hackaday’s current Sci-Fi contest is a perfect excuse. Need inspiration? Check out the syllabus for the MIT SciFi2SciFab class!

Low Budget Omnidirectional Treadmill

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Moving around in space is one of the major hurdles in virtual reality. A holodeck wouldn’t be much fun if you kept walking into walls.  [Gamnaught] is working on a simple solution to this complex problem with his budget omnidirectional treadmill. Omnidirectional treadmills have been around in various forms for a number of years. The idea behind them simple: allow a person walk in any direction without actually changing their position. This is a bit different from the unidirectional treadmill models found at the local gym. Some very complex solutions have been used to create omnidirectional treadmills, including multiple motors and computer control systems as can be found in the US Army omnidirectional treadmill.  [Gamnaught] kept it simple. He built a circular 2×4 platform 13-15 degree bowl. The bowl is covered with carpet, and the user wears furniture sliders on their shoes. The low friction of the sliders allows the user to walk, run, and even walk backwards on the platform. Bungie cords provide resistance so the user doesn’t walk off the platform.

The early results look promising. [Gamnaught] says the balance felt a bit weird at times and took some getting used to. Anyone who has spent time with the Oculus Rift or other VR systems will tell you – many aspects of virtual reality take some getting used to. The treadmill is still open loop, however [Gamnaught] hopes to add motion tracking with a Sixense STEM system. We think a OpenCV based system would work as well. We’ve also seen carpet sliders sold as a children’s toy to be strapped over regular sneakers. Going the toy route would avoid needing a dedicated pair of footwear for the treadmill. More build information can be found on [Gamnaught's] Reddit thread on the topic.

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Cassapa: Augmented Pool

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No good at pool? Never fear, Cassapa is here! [Alex Porto] has created an augmented reality system for playing pool, and it means almost anyone can make those cool trick shots!

Ca-what? Cassapa (“caçapa”) is a Portuguese word for pool table pocket. The software works by placing a webcam directly above the pool table for image recognition. Dedicated software interprets the image and identifies the position of the holes, borders, balls and the cue which can then be used to calculate game physics. A projector then projects the forecast physics and allows you to make tiny adjustments — updated in real-time — to make the perfect shot.

Unfortunately, having a big projector shining down on your pool table won’t exactly make anyone believe you’re actually good at pool. Although if you could combine this with Google Glass or any other vision augmenting goggles… that would be pretty cool. Well, you’d still be terribly dishonest and a cheater — but anyway, take a look at the video after the break.

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HackPhx Winter 2014 Hackathon Winners

HackPhx 2014

The HackPhx Winter 2014 hackathon was held at Heatsync Labs hackerspace in Mesa, Arizona, USA. The advertised theme was “Arduino Wearables”. Participating attendees were randomly placed on teams evenly distributed by their disclosed skills across all teams. There were 10 teams with 4 to 5 members per team competing for two winning spots.

Each team had to build an amazing wearable project utilizing the secret ingredient which was Seedstudio’s Arduino-compatible Xadow wearable platform and add-ons. The Xadow is similar to the Arduino Leonardo and participants used an Arduino cross compatibility and pin mapping chart to assist in development.

Top prize was the Judges’ prizes for the best completed and documented Xadow wearable team project. The second prize was the Jury’s prize given to the team project that the other teams liked the most regardless of event criteria.

Read more about the winning teams and watch their presentations after the break.

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Oculus Rift Goes from Virtual to Augmented Reality

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[William Steptoe] is a post-doctoral research associate at University College London. This means he gets to play with some really cool hardware. His most recent project is an augmented reality update to the Oculus Rift. This is much more than hacking a pair of cameras on the Rift though. [William] has created an entire AR/VR user interface, complete with dockable web browser screens. He started with a stock Rift, and a room decked out with a professional motion capture system. The Rift was made wireless with the addition of an ASUS Wavi and a laptop battery system. [William] found that the wireless link added no appreciable latency to the Rift. To move into the realm of augmented reality, [William] added a pair of Logitech C310 cameras. The C310 lens’ field of view was a bit narrow for what he needed, so lenses from a Genius WideCam F100 were swapped in. The Logitech cameras were stripped down to the board level, and mounted on 3D printed brackets that clip onto the Rift’s display. Shapelock was added to the mounts to allow the convergence of the cameras to be easily set.

Stereo camera calibration is a difficult and processor intensive process. Add to that multiple tracking systems (both the 6DOF head tracking on the Rift, and the video tracker built-in to the room) and you’ve got quite a difficult computational process. [William] found that he needed to use a Unity shader running on his PC’s graphics card to get the system to operate in real-time.  The results are quite stunning. We didn’t have a Rift handy to view the 3D portions of [William's] video. However,  the sense of presence in the room still showed through. Videos like this make us excited for the future of augmented reality applications, with the Rift, the upcoming castAR, and with other systems.

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Video Gaming to Fix Eye Ailments

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Let’s face it, most of the time we’re hacking for no other reason than sheer enjoyment. So we love to see hacks come about that can really make a difference in people’s lives. This time around it’s a video game designed to exercise your eyes. [James Blaha] has an eye condition called Strabismus which is commonly known as crossed-eye. The issue is that the muscles for each eye don’t coordinate with each other in the way they need to in order to produce three-dimensional vision.

Recent research (linked in the reference section of [James'] post) suggests that special exercises may be able to train the eyes to work correctly. He’s been working on developing a video game to promote this type of training. As you can see above, the user (patient?) wears an Oculus Rift headset which makes it possible to show each eye slightly different images, while using a Leap Motion controller for VR interaction. If designed correctly, and paired with the addictive qualities of games, this my be just what the doctor ordered. You know what they say, practice makes perfect!

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