Behold: Valve’s VR and AR Prototypes

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.

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An early AR prototype that worked like looking through a tube into another world.

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.

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Get Your Game On: Troy’s TVCoG Hosts VR and Gaming Hackathon

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. unspecifiedDaydream.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.

 

 

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.

Nikon Resurrection: Repairing a Broken Lens

Modern DSLR cameras are amazing devices. Mechanics, electronics, and optics, all rolled up in a single package. All that technology is great, but it can make for a frustrating experience when attempting any sort of repair. Lenses can be especially difficult to work on. One misalignment of a lens group or element can lead to a fuzzy image.

[Kratz] knew all this, but it didn’t stop him from looking for a cheap lens deal over on eBay. He found a broken Nikon DSLR 55-200mm 1:4-5.6 AF-S VR camera lens for $30. This particular lens is relatively cheap – you can pick up a new one for around $150 online. Spending $30 to save $120 is a bit of a gamble, but [Kratz] went for it.

The lens he bought mostly worked – the auto-focus and vibration reduction system seemed to be fine. The aperture blades however, were stuck closed. Aperture blades form the iris of a lens. With the blades closed down, the lens was severely limited to brightly lit situations. All was not lost though, as the aperture is a relatively simple mechanical system, which hopefully would be easy to repair.

pinNikonKeeping screws and various parts in order is key when taking apart a lens. [Kratz] used a tip he learned right here on Hackaday: He drew a diagram of the screw positions on a thick piece of paper. He then stuck each screw right into the paper in its proper position.

Carefully removing each part, [Kratz] found a pin had slipped out of the rod that connects the lens’ internal parts with the external aperture control arm. Fixing the pin was simple. Getting the lens back together was quite a bit harder. Several parts have to be aligned blindly. [Kratz] persevered and eventually everything slipped into alignment. The finished lens works fine, albeit for a slightly noisy auto-focus.

It’s worth noting that there are service and repair manuals for many cameras and lenses out there in the dark corners of the internet, including [Kratz]’s 55-200 lens. Reading the repair procedures Nikon techs use shows just how many tools, fixtures, and custom bits of software go into making one of these lenses work.

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.

An Introduction To Valve’s Tracking Hardware

[Alan Yates] brought a demo of Valve’s new VR tech that’s the basis of the HTC Vive system to Maker Faire this year. It’s exceptionally clever, and compared to existing VR headsets it’s probably one of the best headtracking solutions out there.

With VR headsets, the problem isn’t putting two displays in front of the user’s eyes. The problem is determining where the user is looking quickly and accurately. IMUs and image processing techniques can be used with varying degrees of success, but to do it right, it needs to be really fast and really cheap.

[Alan] and [Valve]’s ‘Lighthouse’ tracking unit does this by placing a dozen or so IR photodiodes on the headset itself. On the tracking base station, IR lasers scan in the X and Y axes. By scanning these IR lasers across the VR headset, the angle of the headset to the base station can be computed in just a few cycles of a microcontroller. For a bunch of one cent photodiodes, absolute angles and the orientation to a base station can be determined very easily, something that has some pretty incredible applications for everything from VR to robotics.

Remember all of the position tracking hacks that came out as a result of the Nintendo Wii using IR beacons and a tracking camera? This seems like an evolutionary leap forward but in the same realm and can’t wait to see people hacking on this tech!

VCF East X: Virtual Reality With PETSCII

What would happen if Oculus-quality virtual reality was created in the 80s on the Commodore PET? [Michael Hill] knows, because he created a stereoscopic video headset using a PET.

This build is an extension of [Michael]’s exhibit last year at VCF East where he displayed a video feed with PETSCII. Yes, that means displaying video with characters, not pixels.

This year, he’s doubling the number of screens, and sending everything to two iPhones in a Google Cardboard-like VR headset. Apart from the optics, the setup is pretty simple: cameras get image data, it’s sent over to a PET, and a stream of characters are sent back.

It’s impossible to film, and using it is interesting, to say the least. Video below.

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