Drone technology is seeing useful application in a new field seemingly every day — so it was only a matter of time before it saw use in archaeology. And so, a team of researches in Australia are combining drone and VR modeling technology to help investigate the Plain of Jars, in Laos.
After the drone images the site, those photos are patched together by object recognition software and are reviewed in the immersive CAVE2 3D facility at Melbourne, Australia’s Monash University. Multiple surveys catalog and archive the dig at various stages and enable the archaeologists to continue investigating the site after leaving — especially useful for digs in dangerous regions. In this case, the landscape around the Plain of Jars is dotted with unexploded cluster bomblets.
You could have said this at any time in the last couple of decades: the world of virtual reality peripherals does not yet feel as though it has fulfilled its potential. From the Amiga-powered Virtuality headsets and nausea-inducing Nintendo Virtual Boy of the 1990s to today’s crop of advanced headsets and peripherals, there has always been a sense that we’re not quite there yet. Moments at which the shortcomings of the hardware intrude into the virtual world may be less frequent with the latest products, but still the goal of virtual world immersion seems elusive at times.
One of the more interesting peripherals on the market today is the Leap Motion controller. This is a USB device containing infra-red illumination and cameras which provide enough resolution for its software to accurately calculate the position of a user’s hands and fingers in three-dimensional space. This ability to track finger movement gives it the function of a controller for really complex interactions with and manipulations of objects in virtual worlds.
Even the Leap Motion has its shortcomings though, moments at which it ceases to be able to track. Rotating your hand, as you might for instance when aiming a virtual in-game weapon, confuses it. This led [Florian Maurer] to seek his own solution, and he’s come up with a hand peripheral containing a rotation sensor.
Inspired by a movie prop from the film Ender’s Game, it is a 3D-printed device that clips onto the palm of his hand between thumb and index finger. It contains both an Arduino Pro Micro and a bno055 rotation sensor, plus a couple of buttons for in-game actions such as triggers. It solves the problem with the Leap Motion’s rotation detection, and does not impede hand movement so much that he can’t also use his keyboard and mouse while wearing it. Sadly he does not yet seem to have posted any code, but he does treat us to a video demonstration which we’ve posted below the break.
[WayneKeenan] wrote a proof-of-concept virtual reality system that used a Raspberry Pi and an Oculus Rift. It was about a thousand lines of Python and with a battery pack it was even portable. The problem was that the Pi was struggling to create the 3D views.
[Wayne] recently revisited the demo and found that just about everything has gotten better: the Pi 3 is faster, and the Python libraries have become better. He spent some time building a library — VR Zero — and then recreated the original demo in 80 more lines of Python. You can see a video, below.
Microsoft Bob was revolutionary. Normally you’d hear a phrase like that coming from an idiot blogger, but in this case a good argument could be made. Bob threw away the ‘files’ and ‘folders’ paradigm for the very beginnings of virtual reality. The word processor was just sitting down at a desk and writing a letter. Your Rolodex was a Rolodex. All abstractions are removed, and you’re closer than ever to living in your computer. If Microsoft Bob was released today, with multiple users interacting with each other in a virtual environment, it would be too far ahead of it’s time. It would be William Gibson’s most visible heir, instead of Melinda Gates’ only failure. Imagine a cyberpunk world that isn’t a dystopia, and your mind will turn to Microsoft Bob.
Not everyone will laugh at the above paragraph. Indeed, some people are trying to make the idea of a gigantic, virtual, 3D space populated by real people a reality. For the last few years, [alusion] has been working on Metaverse Lab as an experiment in 3D scanning, virtual web browsers, and turning interconnected 3D spaces into habitats for technonauts. The name comes from Snow Crash, and over the past twenty years, a number of projects have popped up to replicate this convergence of the digital and physical. By integrating this idea with the latest VR headsets, Metaverse Lab is the the closest thing I’ve ever seen to the dream of awesome 80s sci-fi.
I’ve actually had the experience of using and interacting with Metaverse Lab on a few occasions. The only way to describe it is as what someone would expect the Internet would be if their only exposure to technology was viewing the 1992 film Lawnmower Man. It works, though, as a completely virtual environment where potential is apparent, and the human mind is not limited by its physical embodiment.
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.
Using 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.
The HTC Vive is the clear winner of the oncoming VR war, and is ready to enter the hallowed halls of beloved consumer electronics behind the Apple Watch, Smart Home devices, the 3Com Audrey, and Microsoft’s MSN TV. This means there’s going to be a lot of Vives on the secondhand market very soon, opening the doors to some interesting repurposing of some very cool hardware.
The Vive’s Lighthouse is an exceptionally cool piece of tech that uses multiple scanning IR laser diodes and a bank of LEDs that allows the Vive to sense its own orientation. It does this by alternately blinking and scanning lasers from left to right and top to bottom. The relevant measurements that can be determined from two Lighthouses are the horizontal angle from the first lighthouse, the vertical angle from the first lighthouse, and the horizontal angle from the second lighthouse. That’s all you need to orient the Vive in 3D space.
To get a simple microcontroller to do the same trick, [Trammell] is using a fast phototransistor with a 120° field of view. This setup only works out to about a meter away from the Lighthouses, but that’s enough for testing.
[Trammell] is working on a Lighthouse library for the Arduino and ESP8266, and so far, everything works. He’s able to get the angle of a breadboard to a Lighthouse with just a little bit of code. This is a great enabling build that is going to allow a lot of people to build some very cool stuff, and we can’t wait to see what happens next.
Just in case anyone secretly had the idea that Valve Software’s VR and other hardware somehow sprang fully-formed from a lab, here are some great photos and video of early prototypes, and interviews with the people who made them. Some of the hardware is quite raw-looking, some of it is recognizable, and some are from directions that were explored but went nowhere, but it’s all fascinating.
The accompanying video (embedded below) has some great background and stories about the research process, which began with a mandate to explore the concepts of AR and VR and determine what could be done and what was holding things back.
One good peek into this process is the piece of hardware shown to the left. You look into the lens end like a little telescope. It has a projector that beams an image directly into your eye, and it has camera-based tracking that updates that image extremely quickly.
The result is a device that lets you look through a little window into a completely different world. In the video (2:16) one of the developers says “It really taught us just how important tracking was. No matter [how you moved] it was essentially perfect. It was really the first glimpse we had into what could be achieved if you had very low persistence displays, and very good tracking.” That set the direction for the research that followed.