Someday Elon Musk might manage to pack enough of us lowly serfs into one of his super rockets that we can actually afford a ticket to space, but until then our options for experiencing weightlessness are pretty limited. Even if you’ll settle for a ride on one of the so-called “Vomit Comet” reduced-gravity planes, you’ll have to surrender a decent chunk of change, and as the name implies, potentially your lunch as well. Is there no recourse for the hacker that wants to get a taste of the astronaut experience without a NASA-sized budget?
To construct his underwater VR headset, [spiritplumber] uses a number of off-the-shelf products. The main “Cardboard” headset itself is the common plastic style that you can probably find in the clearance section of whatever Big Box retailer is convenient for you, and the waterproof bag that holds the phone can be obtained cheaply online. You’ll also need a pair of swimmers goggles to keep water from rudely interrupting your wide-eyed wonderment. As for the custom printed parts, a frame keeps the waterproof bag from pressing against the screen while submerged, and a large spacer is required to get the phone at the appropriate distance from the operator’s eyes.
To put his creation to the test, [spiritplumber] loads up a VR rendition of NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, where astronauts experience a near-weightless environment underwater. All that’s left to complete the experience is a DIY scuba regulator so you can stay submerged. Though at that point we wouldn’t be surprised if a passerby confuses your DIY space simulator for an elaborate suicide attempt.
The personal computers in science fiction books, movies, and games are way cooler than the dinky pieces of hardware we’re stuck with in the real world. Granted the modern laptop has a bit more style than the beige boxes of yesteryear, but they still aren’t half as l33t as the custom PowerBooks in Hackers. Luckily for those who dream of jacking into the Matrix, the average hacker now has access to the technology required to make a custom computer to whatever fanciful specifications they wish.
A perfect example is this “cyberdeck” created by [Tinfoil_Haberdashery]. Inspired by William Gibson’s Neuromancer, this wild-looking machine is more than just a cosplay prop or conversation piece. It packs in enough power to be a daily-driver computer, as well as some special features which make it well suited for field work.
The body of the cyberdeck is 3D printed, but as [Tinfoil_Haberdashery] doesn’t have a 3D printer big enough to do the whole thing in one piece he had to break it up into subsections. He added a dovetail pattern to the edges of each piece, which makes for much stronger joint than simply gluing it together. A worthwhile tip if you ever find yourself in need of printing something really big.
Raspberry Pi aficionados might be disappointed to see the Intel NUC motherboard inside; which features a 3.4 Ghz dual-core CPU, 8 GB of RAM, and a roomy 500 GB SSD in an incredibly small package. To keep everything running the machine can take up to twelve 18650 cells, giving it a maximum run-time of sixteen hours or so. There’s even a 12 V power jack so he can power a soldering iron and other low voltage gadgets off of the deck’s batteries in a pinch. The integrated charger can take anywhere from 6 to 30 V, which gives [Tinfoil_Haberdashery] the ability to charge up from a wide array of sources.
But perhaps the best feature of the cyberdeck is the display. It uses a Fat Shark Transformer, a five inch 720p display designed for FPV drone use, which can not only fold flat against the deck for storage, but can be removed and slipped into a pair of goggles. This gives the cyberdeck a head mounted display that looks like something straight out of the movies. It even supports 3D, if you’re willing to cut the resolution in half.
It turns out that there were a few challenges to work around and a few new problems to solve, not least of which was mapping VR controllers to control an N64 game in a sensible way. One thing that wasn’t avoidable is that the N64’s rendered world may now pop in 3D, but it still springs forth from a rectangular stage. The N64, after all, is still only rendering a world in a TV-screen-sized portion; anything outside that rectangular window doesn’t really exist, and there’s no way around it as long an emulated N64 is running the show. Still, the result is impressive, and a video demo is embedded below where you can see the effect for yourself.
This past semester I added research to my already full schedule of math and engineering classes, as any masochistic student eagerly would. Packed schedule aside, how do you pass up the chance to work on implementing 360° virtual teleportation to anywhere in the world, in real-time. Yes, it is indeed the same concept as the cult worshipped Star Trek transporter, minus the ability to physically be at the location. Perhaps we can add a, “beam me up, Scotty” command when shutting down.
The research lab I was working with is the Laboratory for Immersive CommunicatiON (LION). It’s funded by NSF, Microsoft, and Adobe and has been on the pursuit of VR teleportation for some time now. There’s a lot of cool technologies at work here, like drones which are used as location collection devices. A network of drones will survey landscape anywhere in the world and build the collection assets needed for recreating it in VR. Okay, so a swarm of drones might seem a little intimidating at first, but when has emerging technology not?
[Anjul Patney] and [Qi Sun] demonstrated a fascinating new technique at NVIDIA’s GPU Technology Conference (GTC) for tricking a human into thinking a VR space is larger than it actually is. The way it works is this: when a person walks around in VR, they invariably make turns. During these turns, it’s possible to fool the person into thinking they have pivoted more or less than they have actually physically turned. With a way to manipulate perception of turns comes a way for software to gently manipulate a person’s perception of how large a virtual space is. Unlike other methods that rely on visual distortions, this method is undetectable by the viewer.
The software essentially exploits a quirk of how our eyes work. When a human’s eyes move around to look at different things, the eyeballs don’t physically glide smoothly from point to point. The eyes make frequent but unpredictable darting movements called saccades. There are a number of deeply interesting things about saccades, but the important one here is the fact that our eyes essentially go offline during saccadic movement. Our vision is perceived as a smooth and unbroken stream, but that’s a result of the brain stitching visual information into a cohesive whole, and filling in blanks without us being aware of it.
Part one of [Anjul] and [Qi]’s method is to manipulate perception of a virtual area relative to actual physical area by making a person’s pivots not a 1:1 match. In VR, it may appear one has turned more or less than one has in the real world, and in this way the software can guide the physical motion while making it appear in VR as though nothing is amiss. But by itself, this isn’t enough. To make the mismatches imperceptible, the system watches the eye for saccades and times its adjustments to occur only while they are underway. The brain ignores what happens during saccadic movement, stitches together the rest, and there you have it: a method to gently steer a human being in a way that a virtual space is larger than the physical area available.
Embedded below is a video demonstration and overview, which mentions other methods of manipulating perception of space in VR and how it avoids the pitfalls of other methods.
Built-in Leap Motion camera for precise hand tracking
Yes, you read that last line correctly. The North Star will be open source hardware. Leap Motion is planning to drop all the hardware information next week.
Now that we’ve got you excited, let’s mention what the North Star is not — it’s not a consumer device. Leap Motion’s idea here was to create a platform for developing Augmented Reality experiences — the user interface and interaction aspects. To that end, they built the best head-mounted display they could on a budget. The company started with standard 5.5″ cell phone displays, which made for an incredibly high resolution but low framerate (50 Hz) device. It was also large and completely unpractical.
The current iteration of the North Star uses much smaller displays, which results in a higher frame rate and a better overall experience. The secret sauce seems to be Leap’s use of ellipsoidal mirrors to achieve a large FOV while maintaining focus.
We’re excited, but also a bit wary of the $100 price point — Leap Motion is quick to note that the price is “in volume”. They also mention using diamond tipped tooling in a vibration isolated lathe to grind the mirrors down. If Leap hasn’t invested in some injection molding, those parts are going to make the whole thing expensive. Keep your eyes on the blog here for more information as soon as we have it!
Looking for ideas for your haptics projects? [Destin] of the Smarter Every Day YouTube channel got a tour from the engineers at HaptX of their full-featured VR glove with amazing haptic feedback both with a very fine, 120-point sense of touch, force feedback for each finger, temperature, and motion tracking.
In hacks, we usually stimulate the sense of touch by vibrating something against the skin. With this glove, they use pneumatics to press against the skin. A single fingertip has multiple roughly 1/8 inch air bladders in contact with it. Each bladder is separately pneumatically controlled by pushing air into it. The air pressure can vary continuously so that the bladders can push lightly, harder or anywhere in between. The glove has 120 of these bladders spread out over the fingers and the palm. Unfortunately, they didn’t allow him to see the valves controlling the pneumatics, but if you are looking for a low-frequency, low-cost way to actuate valves you might consider using syringes. The engineers do tell [Destin] that if your VR scene shows something pressing against your virtual finger, as long as your haptics push against your real finger within around 1/8th of a second, your brain won’t notice the delay.
They’re also working on using hot and cold fluids to give a sense of temperature within a glove. This is demonstrated in the first video below when [Destin] feels heat while a dragon in the VR world breathes fire on his hand. Fortunately one of the engineers mentions that our sense of temperature is one of the slower ones, it can handle longer latencies than even touch. We can see implementing this in a hack using a bladder pressing against the skin while tubes circulate different temperature fluids through it. But maybe there’s a way to do it electrically, possibly with thermoelectric modules as is done with this drinks cooler? Though safety issues might prohibit that.
Other features mentioned are force feedback for each finger, and their custom motion tracking which uses both magnetic and optical means to track fingertips. But we’ll leave the rest to the videos below. The first is the technical tour and the second is the glove being used in the VR world.