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.

Low Budget Omnidirectional Treadmill

Omni-treadmill

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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Oculus Releases Open Source Hardware

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Oculus VR, makers of the very cool Oculus Rift VR display, are making their first steps towards open hardware. Their first project is a latency tester, meant to precisely measure the latency of a VR setup or application. This is true open hardware with everything – the firmware, schematics, and mechanical parts all available on GitHub

Inside this neat bit of hardware is a STM32F102 microcontroller and a TCS3414 color sensor. The firmware is designed to measure changes in color and send that data back to a computer with a timestamp.

Not only are the schematics and board files available, there are also a few links to buy the PCBs at OSH Park: for about $24, you can get three copies of the main PCB and sensor board delivered to your door. If you have a 3D printer, Oculus has provided the .STL files to print out the enclosure for this device.

While this is a fairly niche product, we’re amazed at how well the Oculus folk have put together this open source hardware project. Everything you need to replicate this product, from board files, mechanical design, firmware, and instructions on how to build everything is just right there, sitting it a GitHub. Wonderful work.

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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InfinitEye HMD Brings 210 Degree FOV to the Party

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Head mounted displays are coming in hot and heavy this year. InfinitEye doesn’t have an official web page yet, so we’re linking to a review done by TheRoadToVR. Note that this is the second version of the display. InfinitEye released plans for their V1 HMD back in February. The InfinitEye prototype looks strikingly like the early Oculus Rift prototypes. Gaffers tape and what appears to be the frame from a face shield hold together the optical system. It’s this optical system which is interesting. InfinitEye has decided to go with head mounted LCD screens, similar to the rift, and unlike castAR’s projection system.

The InfinitEye team decided to go with two screens, giving them a whopping 1280×800 resolution per eye. The optics are also simple – fresnel lenses. This is all similar to the first version of the goggles, however the InfinitEye team claims that this new edition provides a 210 degree field of view. What we don’t know is exactly what they changed. We’re curious if the wider field of view will reduce the Sim Sickness some of us have felt with the rift – though to be fair, almost any head mounted display requires some time to adjust. What we are sure of is that the future is bright for virtual (and augmented) reality.

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Here Be Dragons, and VR…and sheep.

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This may qualify less as a hack and more as clever combination of video game input devices, but we thought it was well worth showing off. [Jack] and his team built Dragon Eyes from scratch at the 2013 Dundee Dare Jam. If you’re unfamiliar with “Game Jams” and have any aspirations of working in the video game industry, we highly recommend that you find one and participate. With only 48 hours to design, code, build assets and test, many teams struggle to finish their entry. Dragon Eyes, however, uses the indie-favorite game engine Unity3D to smoothly coordinate its input devices, allowing players to experience dragon flight. The Kinect reads the player’s arm positions (including flapping) to direct the wings for travel, while the Oculus Rift performs its usual job as immersive VR headgear.

Combining a Kinect and a Rift isn’t particularly uncommon, but the function of the microphone is. By blowing into a headset microphone, players activate the dragon’s fire-breathing. How’s that for interactivity? You can see [Jack] roasting some sheep in a demonstration video below. If you have a Kinect and Rift lying around and want some first-person dragon action, [Jack] has kindly provided a download of the build in the project link above.

We’re looking forward to more implementations of the Rift; we haven’t seen many just yet. You can, however, check out a Rift used as an aerial camera on a drone.

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