Light Field technology is a fascinating area of Virtual Reality research that emulates the way that light behaves to make a virtual scene look more realistic. By emulating light coming from multiple angles entering the eye, the scenes look more realistic because they look closer to reality. It is rumored to be part of the technology included in the forthcoming Magic Leap headset, but it looks like Google is trying to steal some of their thunder. The VR research arm of the search giant has released a VR app called Welcome to Light Fields that uses a similar technique on existing VR headsets, such as those from Oculus and Microsoft.
The magic sauce is in the way the image is captured, as Google uses a semicircular arrangement of 13 GoPro cameras that are rotated to capture about a thousand images. The captured images are then stitched together by Google’s software to create the final image, which has a light field effect. It is thought that the forthcoming Magic Leap headset needs special optics to create this effect but the Google version works on standard VR headsets. According to those who tried it, the effect works well, but has some quirks: it only works on still images at the moment, and any movement while the camera is rotating ruins the effect. A writer from Technology Review who got to try the Google software also notes that people in the shot don’t work: because they naturally follow the camera with their eyes, they seem to be following your view as you pan around the VR image, like one of those creepy portraits.