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.
Troy New York’s Tech Valley Center of Gravity is following up their January IoT Hackathon with another installment. The April 16-17 event promises to be a doozy, and anyone close to the area with even a passing interest in gaming and AR/VR should really make an effort to be there.
Not content to just be a caffeine-fueled creative burst, TVCoG is raising the bar in a couple ways. First, they’re teaming up with some corporate sponsors with a strong presence in the VR and AR fields. Daydream.io, a new company based in the same building as the CoG, is contributing a bunch of its Daydream.VR smartphone headsets to hackathon attendees, as well as mentors to get your project up and running. Other sponsors include 1st Playable Productions and Vicarious Visions, game studios both located in the Troy area. And to draw in the hardcore game programmers, a concurrent Ludum Dare game jam will be run by the Tech Valley Game Space, with interaction and collaboration between the AR/VR hackers and the programmers encouraged. Teams will compete for $1000 in prizes and other giveaways.
This sounds like it’s going to be an amazing chance to hack, to collaborate, and to make connections in the growing AR/VR field. And did we mention the food? There was a ton of it last time, so much they were begging us to take it home on Sunday night. Go, hack, create, mingle, and eat. TVCoG knows how to hackathon, and you won’t be disappointed.
Thanks to [Duncan Crary] for the heads up on this.
The web is abuzz with the news that the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift has buried in its terms of service a clause allowing the social media giant access to the “physical movements and dimensions” of its users. This is likely to be used for the purposes of directing advertising to those users and most importantly for the advertisers, measuring the degree of interaction between user and advert. It’s a dream come true for the advertising business, instead of relying on eye-tracking or other engagement studies on limited subsets of users they can take these metrics from their entire user base and hone their offering on an even more targeted basis for peak interaction to maximize their revenue.
Fortunately for us there is a choice even if our community doesn’t circumvent the data-slurping powers of their headsets; a rash of other virtual reality products are in the offing at the moment from Samsung, HTC, and Sony among others, and of course there is Google’s budget offering. Sadly though it is likely that privacy concerns will not touch the non-tech-savvy end-user, so competition alone will not stop the relentless desire from big business to get this close to you. Instead vigilance is the key, to spot such attempts when they make their way into the small print, and to shine a light on them even when the organisations in question would prefer that they remained incognito.
Oculus Rift development kit 2 image: By Ats Kurvet – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
If you’re looking for a quick and easy project to get into virtual reality, making your own VR skateboard controller is actually pretty easy to do!
First you’ll need some kind of VR headset. You could buy a fancy one, like the Oculus, or a Samsung Gear VR — or you could use something as simple as Google Cardboard — and you could even make your own. All it takes is a phone, an Arduino, a Bluetooth module, and an accelerometer-plus-gyroscope IMU.