Hacklet 54 – Virtual Reality Projects

Virtual Reality is finally coming of age. Hackers, Makers and Engineers have dreamed of creating immersive interfaces for years. From the first flight simulators to today’s cellphone powered head mounted displays, VR has always been an exciting field. Many of the advances today are being created by hackers who were inspired by systems like Virtuality from the early 1990’s. Now 25 years on, we’re seeing amazing advances – not only in commercial systems, but in open source VR projects. This week’s Hacklet is all about the best VR projects on Hackaday.io!

vr1We start with [j0nno] and D.I.Y Virtual Reality. [J0nno] has become interested in VR, and decided to build his own head mounted display. His goal is to create a setup with full head tracking and an open source software stack. He’s hoping to do this within a budget of just $200 AUD. [J0nno] started with the Ritech3d-V2 VR Goggles, which are a plastic implementation of Google’s project cardboard. For display he’s using a 5.6 inch 1280 x 800 TFT LCD. Tracking is optical, using IR LEDs and a PS3 Eye camera. [J0nno’s] background is in software, so he’s doing great setting up OpenVR and Perception. The hardware side is a bit new to him. This isn’t stopping [J0nno] though! In true hacker spirit, he’s learning all about resistors and driving LEDs as he works on D.I.Y Virtual Reality.

vr2Next up is [Josh Lindsay] with Digitabulum: The last motion-capture glove. Digitabulum is a motion capture glove designed to be able to emulate most other motion capture systems. It is also designed to be relatively low-cost. At $400 per hand, it is less expensive than most other offerings, though we’d still love to see something even cheaper. [Josh] is going with inertial sensors, and a lot of them. Specifically he’s using no less than 17 LSM9DS1 Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) sensors from ST Microelectronics. IMU sensors like this combine multiple rate gyros, accelerometers, and magnetometers into a single unit. Essentially every segment of every finger has its own sensor suite. As you might imagine, that is quite a bit of data to crunch. An Altera Max II CPLD and an ST Arm processor help boil down the data to something which a VR engine can process. [Josh] has been working on this project for over a year now, and he’s making great progress. The prototype glove looks terrific!

vr3[Thomas] brings augmented reality to the table with Oculus Rift featured Crane control. What started as a hobby experiment became [Thomas’] major project at university. He’s connected an Oculus Rift to a toy crane. A stereo camera on the crane sends a video image to the operator. The camera is mounted on a pan/tilt mechanism driven by the Rift’s head tracking unit. Simple joystick controls allow [Thomas] to move the boom and lower the line. On-screen displays show the current status of the crane. The use of the Rift makes this an immersive demonstration. One could easily see how moving this system into the real world would make crane operations safer for crane operators.

vr4Finally we have [Arcadia Labs] with DIY Augmented Reality Device. This project, which is the [Arcadia Labs] entry in the 2015 Hackaday Prize, uses two 320 x 240 screens to create an augmented reality head mounted display. While the resolution can’t match that of the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, [Arcadia Labs] is ok with that. They’re going for a lower cost open source alternative for augmented reality. Tracking is achieved with an IMU, while a PS3 Eye camera provides the video. A Raspberry Pi controls the show. [Arcadia Labs] was able to get 50 frames per second on the displays just using the Pi’s SPI interface, however the USB PS3 Eye camera limits things to around 10 FPS. This project is under heavy development right now, so follow along with us to see where [Arcadia Labs] ends up!

If you want VR goodness, check out our new virtual reality projects list! Did I miss your project? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. If you’re on the left coast of the USA, check out SOCAL Virtual Reality Conference and Expo. Hackaday is a sponsor. The event happens on July 12 at the University of California Irvine.

That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Putting Oculus Rift on a Robot

Many of the early applications for the much anticipated Oculus Rift VR rig have been in gaming. But it’s interesting to see some more useful applications besides gaming, before it’s commercial release sometime this year. [JoLau] at the Institute i4Ds of FHNW School of Engineering wanted to go a step beyond rendering virtual worlds. So he built the Intuitive Rift Explorer a.k.a IRE. The IRE is a moving reality system consisting of a gimbaled stereo-vision camera rig transmitting video to the Rift, and matching head movements received from the Oculus Rift. The vision platform is mounted on a Remote-controlled robot which is completely wireless.

One of the big challenges with using VR headsets is lag, causing motion sickness in some cases. He had to tackle the problem of latency – reducing the time from moving the head to getting a matching image on the headset – Oculus Rift team specified it should be less than 20ms. The other important requirement is a high frame rate, in this case 60 frames per second. [JoLau] succeeded in overcoming most of the problems, although in conclusion he does mention a couple of enhancements that he would like to add, given more time.

[JoLau] provides a detailed description of the various sub-systems that make up IRE – the Stereo camera,  audio and video transmission, media processing, servo driven gimbal for the stereo camera,  and control system code. [JoLau]’s reasoning on some of the interesting hardware choices for several components used in the project makes for interesting reading. Watch a video of the IRE in action below.

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ANUBIS, A Natural User Bot Interface System

[Matt], [Andrew], [Noah], and [Tim] have a pretty interesting build for their capstone project at Ohio Northern University. They’re using a Microsoft Kinect, and a Leap Motion to create a natural user interface for controlling humanoid robots.

The robot the team is using for this project is a tracked humanoid robot they’ve affectionately come to call Johnny Five.  Johnny takes commands from a computer, Kinect, and Leap motion to move the chassis, arm, and gripper around in a way that’s somewhat natural, and surely a lot easier than controlling a humanoid robot with a keyboard.

The team has also released all their software onto Github under an open source license. You can grab that over on the Gits, or take a look at some of the pics and videos from the Columbus Mini Maker Faire.

Hackaday Links: December 21, 2014

Most of the incredible flight simulator enthusiasts with 737 cockpits in their garage are from the US. What happens when they’re from Slovenia? They built an A320 cockpit. The majority of the build comes from an old Cyprus Airways aircraft, with most of the work being wiring up the switches, lights, and figuring out how to display the simulated world out of the cockpit.

Google Cardboard is the $4 answer to the Oculus Rift – a cardboard box and smartphone you strap to your head. [Frooxius] missed being able to interact with objects in these 3D virtual worlds, so he came up with this thing. He adapted a symbol tracking library for AR, and is now able to hold an object in his hands while looking at a virtual object in 3D.

Heat your house with candles! Yes, it’s the latest Indiegogo campaign that can be debunked with 7th grade math. This “igloo for candles” will heat a room up by 2 or 3 degrees, or a little bit less than a person with an average metabolism will.

Last week, we saw a post that gave the Samsung NX300 the ability to lock the pictures taken by the camera with public key cryptography. [g3gg0] wrote in to tell us he did the same thing with a Canon EOS camera.

The guys at Flite Test put up a video that should be handy for RC enthusiasts and BattleBot contenders alike. They’re tricking out transmitters, putting push buttons where toggle switches should go, on/off switches where pots should go, and generally making a transmitter more useful. It’s also a useful repair guide.

[Frank Zhao] made a mineral oil aquarium and put a computer in it. i7, GTX 970, 16GB RAM, and a 480GB SSD. It’s a little bigger than most of the other aquarium computers we’ve seen thanks to the microATX mobo, and of course there are NeoPixels and a bubbly treasure chest.

Using the Oculus Rift as a Multi-Monitor Replacement

[Jason] has been playing around with the Oculus Rift lately and came up with a pretty cool software demonstration. It’s probably been done before in some way shape or form, but we love the idea anyway and he’s actually released the program so you can play with it too!

It’s basically a 3D Windows Manager, aptly called 3DWM — though he’s thinking of changing the name to something a bit cooler, maybe the WorkSphere or something.

As he shows in the following video demonstration, the software allows you to set up multiple desktops and windows on your virtual sphere created by the Oculus — essentially creating a virtual multi-monitor setup. There’s a few obvious cons to this setup which makes it a bit unpractical at the moment. Like the inability to see your keyboard (though this shouldn’t really be a problem), the inability to see people around you… and of course the hardware and it’s lack of proper resolution. But besides that, it’s still pretty awesome!

In the future development he hopes to add Kinect 2 and Leap Motion controller integration to help make it even more user intuitive — maybe more Minority Report style.

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Ask Hackaday: What is The Future of Virtual Reality?

Most of us have heard of Second Life – that antiquated online virtual reality platform of yesteryear where users could explore, create, and even sell content.  You might be surprised to learn that not only are they still around, but they’re also employing the Oculus Rift and completely redesigning their virtual world. With support of the DK2 Rift, the possibilities for a Second Life platform where users can share and explore each other’s creations opens up some interesting doors.

Envision a world where you could log on to a “virtual net”, put on your favorite VR headset and let your imagination run wild. You and some friends could make a city, a planet…and entire universe that you and thousands of others could explore. With a little bit of dreaming and an arduino, VR can bring dreams to life.

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DIY Head Mounted Display Based On Movie Based On Stephen King Story

Ever since [will1384] watched “The Lawnmower Man” as a wee lad, he’s been interested in virtual reality. He has been messing around with it for years and even had a VictorMaxx Stuntmaster, one of the first available head mounted displays. Years later, the Oculus Rift came out and [will1384] wanted to try it out but the $350 price tag put it just out of his price range for a discretionary purchase. He then did what most of us HaD readers would do, try building one himself, and with a goal for doing it for around $100.

The main display is a 7″ LCD with a resolution of 1024×600 pixels and has a mini HDMI input. Some DIY head mounted display projects out on the ‘web use ski goggles or some sort of elastic strap to hold the display to the wearer’s head. [will1384] took a more industrial approach, literally. He used the head mounting system from a welding helmet. This not only has an adjustable band but also has a top strap to prevent the entire contraption from sliding down. Three-dimensional parts were printed out to secure the LCD to the welding helmet parts while at the same time creating a duct to block out external light.

diyhmd-lenses

Inside the goggles are a pair of 5x Loupe lenses mounted between the user’s eyes and the LCD screen. These were made to be adjustable so that the wearer can dial them in for the most comfortable viewing experience. The remote mounted to the top strap may look a little out-of-place but it is actually being used to capture head movement. In addition to a standard wireless remote, it is also an air mouse with internal gyroscopes.