In the last year, [Jeri Ellsworth] has been very busy. She was hired by Valve, started development of an augmented reality system, fired by Valve, and started a new company with [Rick Johnson] to bring her augmented reality glasses to the market. On the last Amp Hour podcast she spilled the beans on what went down at Valve, how her glasses work, and what her plans for the future are.
[Jeri] and [Rick]’s castAR glasses aren’t virtual reality glasses like the Oculus Rift or other virtual reality glasses that cut you off from the real world. The castAR glasses preserve your peripheral vision by projecting images and objects onto a gray retro-reflective mat and allows you to interact with a virtual environment with an electronic wand. So far, there are a few demos for the castAR system; a Jenga clone, and a game of battle chess called Team For Chess, a wonderful reference to Valve’s hat simulator.
The electronics inside the castAR glasses are fairly impressive; new frames are drawn on the retro-reflective surface at 100 Hz, positioning accuracy is in the sub-millimeter range, and thanks to [Jeri]’s clever engineering the entire system should be priced at about $200. Not too bad for an awesome device that can be used not only for D&D and Warhammer, but also for some very cool practical applications like visualizing engineering models of 3D prints before they’re printed.
While browsing an oculus rift thread on reddit, I saw someone mention how nice it would be to have some actual mounts for external sensors on their Rift. The idea is that adding additional sensors or cameras will allow us to expand the capabilities of the rift. With something like the Razor Hydra, you can add quick positional tracking (the rift only tracks rotation, not position). With some webcams, you could theoretically do some stereoscopic augmented reality. Unfortunately, attaching all these things to the rift is a bit of a pain at the moment.
I had all the things right here in front of me to make this happen, so I did! I’ve quickly tossed together two accessories for the Rift.
1. a small bracket that feeds onto the velcro on the back. People will likely use this for “heavy” position sensors. They may be fairly light, but any additional weight on the front of the rift is unwanted.
2. A snap-on face plate that has a modular design. This wold be for mounting cameras on the front of the rift.
Our Oculus Rift finally arrived in the mail. I’ll spare you my thoughts on the item itself other than to say it is amazing. There are tons of videos to choose from that show people’s thoughts and reactions, and Ifixit has their usual detailed teardown as well.
The mod I decided to tackle first was the horizontal peripheral vision lights. The shape of the Oculus means that it feels like you are wearing a skii mask, or diving mask. There are big black borders at the far edges of the sides. It would seem that a simple mod would be to add some RGB LEDs and run a simple ambilight clone.
I downloaded the Adalight code and plugged in an RGB LED strip I had sitting around. The rift has some mesh areas at the 4 corners to allow air to move around in there. I took advantage of this so I didn’t even have to cut into the rift… yet. I simply strapped the strip to the rift with the proper LEDs shining through the holes.
The result was decent. Since the LEDs are further back in your peripheral vision than the edge of the screen, it looks like maybe a little light from the surroundings is just “leaking” into the headset. It gives the impression of seeing things that are far beyond the edge of the screen. A better installation, allowing lights all the way up the left and right sides instead of just the corners might yield even better results.
Oculus Rift dev kits are starting to make their way onto the workbenches of makers around the globe. Some are even going so far as to tear open the hardware and see how they can improve it. [Mike] didn’t like the fact the Oculus Rift needed a wall wart power supply, so he modded it so it can be powered over a USB port.
The key insight for this mod comes after [Mike] put a Kill-a-Watt between his outlet and the Rift’s power adapter. He found only 600 mA of current was being used by the Rift, assuming 100% efficiency in the adapter. A USB port is supposed to provide 500 mA of current, so with a soldering gun, [Mike] bridged the DC input jack and the USB port on the Rift. Perhaps unsurprisingly, everything worked perfectly.
[Kevin Mellott’s] take on the VFX1 was to update it so it can be used with modern computers requiring just a USB socket and VGA feed.
The VFX1 is a Virtual Reality Headset that hit the market in the first half of the 90’s. The headset was the first of its kind to hit the home market and was ahead of its time. The VFX1 was developed and marketed by Forte Technologies, who’s assets where purchased in 1997 by Vuzix who now produce modern day Video glasses with optional tracking system.
What [Kevin] has achieved is nothing more than remarkable. The original system required a massive ISA card and a link from this card to the Feature Connector on the display card. [Kevin] did away with the ISA card and FCON replacing it with what he calls the LinkBox. This LinkBox has serial or USB out and accepts stereo/mono VGA input or RGB.
The system can now be used with modern day computers including laptops. Those into VR should really check this out.
MTBS3D forum user [Rfurlan] pledged in the oculus rift kickstarter (which concluded last night), but simply couldn’t wait till November/December to get his developer kit. That, and he’s probably only getting one, and who can live with only one? Since [Palmer], the creator of the oculus rift has been very open about parts, [Rfurlan] was able to compile build instructions for your very own Oculus Rift! Keep in mind though, this is only the immersive display, not the tracking component. It is also, possibly not exactly the same as the oculus, but rather the same as a recent prototype.
At one point he was having issues finding the correct lenses and [Palmer] jumped in to make some suggestions to keep things going. That’s the kind of enthusiasm that we love to see from an innovator, even when he’s in the middle of a kickstarted for the very item that [Rfurlan] is creating. This is a testament to the VR community.
Lets take a look at what makes this thing tick, and why it is such a big deal.
If you’ve been following along with immersive gaming, even casually, you’ve probably considered the difficulty in trying to do a comfortable and believable “walk” in a game. The first thing that usually pops into peoples minds are Omni Directional Treadmills, or ODTs. There are many problems with these, one of the biggest simply being cost. They’re very expensive.
[Zalo] at the MTBS3d forums has been working on his own very cost effective solution called the “Simulacrum”. He has built this for under $100 and it allows for a walking motion to be translated into the game. As you can see in the video below it works fairly well, even when one is out of commission for repairs (hence the limp).