David Krum: The Revolution in Virtual Reality

[David Krum] is associate lab director at the Mixed Reality Lab at the Institute for Creative Technologies at USC. That puts him at the intersection of science and engineering: building cool virtual reality (VR) devices, and using science to figure out what works and what doesn’t. He’s been doing VR since 1998, so he’s seen many cool ideas come and go. His lab was at the center of the modern virtual reality explosion. Come watch his talk and see why!

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Dirt Cheap VR Gun with Tracking for $15 of Added Hardware

Virtual reality doesn’t feel very real if your head is the only thing receiving the virtual treatment. For truly immersive experiences you must be able to use your body, and even interact with virtual props, in an intuitive way. For instance, in a first-person shooter you want to be able to hold the gun and use it just as you would in real reality. That’s exactly what [matthewhallberg] managed to do for just a few bucks.

This project is an attempt to develop a VR shooting demo and the associated hardware on a budget, complete with tracking so that the gun can be aimed independent of the user’s view. [matthewhallberg] calls it The Oculus Cardboard Project, named for the combined approach of using a Google Cardboard headset for the VR part, and camera-based object tracking for the gun portion. The game was made in Unity 3D with the Vuforia augmented reality plugin. Not counting a smartphone and Google Cardboard headset, the added parts clocked in at only about $15.

ESP8266 on FiducialUsing corrugated cardboard and a printout, [matthewhallberg] created a handheld paddle-like device with buttons that acts as both controller and large fiducial marker for the smartphone camera. Inside the handle is a battery and an ESP8266 microcontroller. The buttons on the paddle allow for “walk forward” as well as “shoot” triggers. The paddle represents the gun, and when you move it around, the smartphone’s camera tracks the orientation so it’s possible to move and point the gun independent of your point of view. You can see it in action in the video below.

Tracking a handheld paddle with a fiducial marker isn’t a brand new idea; We were able to find this project for example which also very cleverly simulates a trigger input by making a trigger physically alter the paddle shape when you squeeze it. The fiducial is altered by the squeeze, and the camera sees the change and registers it as an input. However, [matthewhallberg]’s approach of using hardware buttons does allow for a wider variety of reliable inputs (move and shoot instead of just move, for example). If you’re interesting in trying it out, the project page has all the required details and source code.

This isn’t [matthewhallberg]’s first attempt and getting the most out of an economical Google Cardboard setup. He used some of the ideas and parts from his earlier DIY Virtual Reality Snowboard project.

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VR Telepresence Tank from Raspberry Pi, Google Cardboard, and Xbox Controller

It’s great to see different kinds of hardware and software tossed into a project together, allowing someone to mix things that don’t normally go together into something new. [Freddy Kilo] did just that with a project he calls his VR Robot Tank. It’s a telepresence device that uses a wireless Xbox controller to drive a tracked platform, which is itself headed by a Raspberry Pi.

The Pi has two cameras on a pan-tilt mount, and those cameras are both aimed and viewed via a Google Cardboard-like setup. A healthy dose of free software glues it together, allowing things like video streaming (with U4VL) and steering via the wireless controller (with xboxdrv). A bit of fiddling was required for some parts – viewing the stereoscopic cameras for example is done by opening and positioning two video windows just right so as to see them through the headset lenses. It doesn’t warp the image to account for the lens distortion in the headset, and the wireless range might be limited, but the end result seems to work well enough.

The tank is driven with the wireless controller while a mobile phone mounted in a headset lets the user see through the cameras; motion sensing in the phone moves those cameras whenever you move your head to look around. Remote Control hobbyists will recognize the project as doing essentially the same job as FPV setups for model aircraft (for example, Drone Racing or even Snow Sleds) but this project uses a completely different hardware and software toolchain. It demonstrates the benefits of having access to open tools to use as virtual “duct tape”, letting people stick different things together to test a concept. It proves almost anything can be made to work if you have a willingness to fiddle!

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Greased Lightning Shows 360 Degrees

A lot of people got drones for Christmas this year (and many Hackaday readers already had one, anyway). A lot of these drones have cameras on them. The expensive ones beam back live video via RF. The cheaper ones just record to an SD card that you can download later.

If you are NASA, of course, this just isn’t good enough. At the Langley Research Center in Virginia, they’ve been building the Greased Lightning (also known as the GL-10) which is a 10-engine tilt-prop unmanned aerial vehicle. The carbon fiber drone is impressive, sure, but what wows is the recent video NASA released (see below).

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Baby Saved by Doctors Using Google Cardboard after 3D Printer Fails

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. Doctors tell you that your baby is sick and there’s nothing they can do. Luckily though, a combination of hacks led to a happy ending for [Teegan Lexcen] and her family.

When [Cassidy and Chad Lexcen]’s twin daughters were born in August, smaller twin [Teegan] was clearly in trouble. Diagnostics at the Minnesota hospital confirmed that she had been born with only one lung and half a heart. [Teegan]’s parents went home and prepared for the inevitable, but after two months, she was still alive. [Cassidy and Chad] started looking for second opinions, and after a few false starts, [Teegan]’s scans ended up at Miami’s Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, where the cardiac team looked them over. They ordered a 3D print of the scans to help visualize possible surgical fixes, but the 3D printer broke.

Not giving up, they threw [Teegan]’s scans into Sketchfab, slapped an iPhone into a Google Cardboard that one of the docs had been playing with in his office, and were able to see a surgical solution to [Teegan]’s problem. Not only was Cardboard able to make up for the wonky 3D printer, it was able to surpass it – the 3D print would only have been the of the heart, while the VR images showed the heart in the context of the rest of the thoracic cavity.[Dr. Redmond Burke] and his team were able to fix [Teegan]’s heart in early December, and she should be able to go home in a few weeks to join her sister [Riley] and make a complete recovery.

We love the effect that creative use of technology can have on our lives. We’ve already seen a husband using the same Sketchfab tool to find a neurologist that remove his wife’s brain tumor. Now this is a great example of doctors doing what it takes to better leverage the data at their disposal to make important decisions.

3D Printed Eyeglasses, VR Lenses

[Florian] is hyped for Google Cardboard, Oculus Rifts, and other head mounted displays, and with that comes an interest in lenses. [Floian] wanted to know if it was possible to create these lenses with a 3D printer. Why would anyone want to do this when these lenses can be had from dozens of online retailers for a few dollars? The phrase, ‘because I can’ comes to mind.

The starting point for the lens was a CAD model, a 3D printer, and silicone mold material. Clear casting resin fills the mold, cures, and turns into a translucent lens-shaped blob. This is the process of creating all lenses, and by finely sanding, polishing, and buffing this lens with grits ranging from 200 to 7000, this bit of resin slowly takes on an optically clear shine.

Do these lenses work? Yes, and [Florian] managed to build a head mounted display that can hold an iPhone up to his face for viewing 3D images and movies. The next goal is printing prescription glasses, and [Florian] seems very close to achieving that dream.

The last time we saw home lens making was more than a year ago. Is anyone else dabbling in this dark art? Let us know in the comments below and send in a tip if you have a favorite lens hack in mind.

Finally, VR For Four Eyes

In the next few years, VR headsets will be everywhere, and everyone will slowly recede into their own little reality that is presented on high-resolution displays right in front of their eyes. One specific group will be left out: eyeglass wearers. VR just doesn’t work with eyeglasses, and a few people in Germany are fixing this problem. They’re creating custom prescription lenses for Google Cardboard, giving anyone with glasses the opportunity to look just a little more hipster.

The folks behind this Indiegogo already run a specialty optics shop in Germany. They have the tools to make custom lenses for spectacles, and they’re the first company so far that has identified a problem with the current crop of VR headsets and has created a solution. The campaign is for a set of lenses that can be attached to Google Cardboard with double stick tape. There are limitations on how strong of a prescription they can make, but it should work for most four eyes.

It should be noted this Indiegogo isn’t the only way to get custom lenses for a VR headset. If you have your prescription, there are a few places to buy glasses online for $30 or so. Do that, remove the lenses from the frame, and affix them to Cardboard.