Safely Dive Into Your Fears With Virtual Reality

What makes you afraid? Not like jump-scares in movies or the rush of a roller-coaster, but what are your legitimate fears that qualify as phobias? Spiders? Clowns? Blood? Flying? Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin are experimenting with exposure therapy in virtual reality to help people manage their fears. For some phobias, like arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, this seems like a perfect fit. If you are certain that you are safely in a spider-free laboratory wearing a VR headset, and you see a giant spider crawling across your field of vision, the fear may be more manageable than being asked to put your hand into a populated spider tank.

After the experimental therapy, participants were asked to take the spider tank challenge. Subjects who were not shown VR spiders were less enthusiastic about keeping their hands in the tank. This is not definitive proof, but it is a promising start.

High-end VR equipment and homemade rigs are in the budget for many gamers and hackers, and our archives are an indication of how much the cutting-edge crowd loves immersive VR. We have been hacking 360 recording for nearly a decade, long before 360 cameras took their niche in the consumer market. Maybe when this concept is proven out a bit more, implementations will start appearing in our tip lines with hackers who helped their friends get over their fears.

Via IEEE Spectrum.

Photo by Wokandapix.

VR Mech’s Missing Link: The Phone In Your Pocket

In the process of making a homemade Mech Combat game that features robot-like piloted tanks capable of turning the cockpit independent of the direction of movement, [Florian] realized that while the concept was intuitive to humans, implementing it in a VR game had challenges. In short, when the body perceives movement but doesn’t feel the expected acceleration and momentum, motion sickness can result. A cockpit view that changes independently of forward motion exacerbates the issue.

To address this, [Florian] wanted to use a swivel chair to represent turning the Mech’s “hips”. This would control direction of travel and help provide important physical feedback. He was considering a hardware encoder for the chair when he realized he already had one in his pocket: his iPhone.

By making an HTML page that accesses the smartphone’s Orientation API, no app install was needed to send the phone’s orientation to his game via a WebSocket in Unity. He physically swivels his chair to steer and is free to look around using the VR headset, separate from the direction of travel. Want to try it for yourself? Get it from [Florian]’s GitHub repository.

A video is embedded below, but if you’re interested in details be sure to also check out [Florian]’s summary of insights and methods for avoiding motion sickness in a VR Mech cockpit.

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David Krum: The Revolution In Virtual Reality

[David Krum] is associate lab director at the Mixed Reality Lab at the Institute for Creative Technologies at USC. That puts him at the intersection of science and engineering: building cool virtual reality (VR) devices, and using science to figure out what works and what doesn’t. He’s been doing VR since 1998, so he’s seen many cool ideas come and go. His lab was at the center of the modern virtual reality explosion. Come watch his talk and see why!

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Facebook To Slurp Oculus Rift Users’ Every Move

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.

Hardly a surprise you might say, given that Facebook is no stranger to criticism on privacy matters. It does however represent a hitherto unseen level of intrusion into a user’s personal space, even to guess the nature of their activities from their movements, and this opens up fresh potential for nefarious uses of the data.

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.

3D Printed Eyeglasses, VR Lenses

[Florian] is hyped for Google Cardboard, Oculus Rifts, and other head mounted displays, and with that comes an interest in lenses. [Floian] wanted to know if it was possible to create these lenses with a 3D printer. Why would anyone want to do this when these lenses can be had from dozens of online retailers for a few dollars? The phrase, ‘because I can’ comes to mind.

The starting point for the lens was a CAD model, a 3D printer, and silicone mold material. Clear casting resin fills the mold, cures, and turns into a translucent lens-shaped blob. This is the process of creating all lenses, and by finely sanding, polishing, and buffing this lens with grits ranging from 200 to 7000, this bit of resin slowly takes on an optically clear shine.

Do these lenses work? Yes, and [Florian] managed to build a head mounted display that can hold an iPhone up to his face for viewing 3D images and movies. The next goal is printing prescription glasses, and [Florian] seems very close to achieving that dream.

The last time we saw home lens making was more than a year ago. Is anyone else dabbling in this dark art? Let us know in the comments below and send in a tip if you have a favorite lens hack in mind.

Castrol Virtual Drift: Hacking Code At 80MPH With A Driver In A VR Helmet

Driving a brand new 670 horsepower Roucsh stage 3 Mustang while wearing virtual reality goggles. Sounds nuts right? That’s exactly what Castrol Oil’s advertising agency came up with though. They didn’t want to just make a commercial though – they wanted to do the real thing. Enter [Adam and Glenn], the engineers who were tasked with getting data from the car into a high end gaming PC. The computer was running a custom simulation under the Unreal Engine. El Toro field provided a vast expanse of empty tarmac to drive the car without worry of hitting any real world obstacles.

The Oculus Rift was never designed to be operated inside a moving vehicle, so it presented a unique challenge for [Adam and Glenn]. Every time the car turned or spun, the Oculus’ on-board Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) would think driver [Matt Powers] was turning his head. At one point [Matt] was trying to drive while the game engine had him sitting in the passenger seat turned sideways. The solution was to install a 9 degree of freedom IMU in the car, then subtract the movements of that IMU from the one in the Rift.

GPS data came from a Real Time Kinematic (RTK) GPS unit. Unfortunately, the GPS had a 5Hz update rate – not nearly fast enough for a car moving close to 100 MPH. The GPS was relegated to aligning the virtual and real worlds at the start of the simulation. The rest of the data came from the IMUs and the car’s own CAN bus. [Adam and Glenn] used an Arduino with a Microchip mcp2515 can bus interface  to read values such as steering angle, throttle position, brake pressure, and wheel spin. The data was then passed on to the Unreal engine. The Arduino code is up on Github, though the team had to sanitize some of Ford’s proprietary CAN message data to avoid a lawsuit. It’s worth noting that [Adam and Glenn] didn’t have any support from Ford on this, they just sniffed the CAN network to determine each message ID.

The final video has the Hollywood treatment. “In game” footage has been replaced with pre-rendered sequences, which look so good we’d think the whole thing was fake, that is if we didn’t know better.

Click past the break for the final commercial and some behind the scenes footage.

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ANUBIS, A Natural User Bot Interface System

[Matt], [Andrew], [Noah], and [Tim] have a pretty interesting build for their capstone project at Ohio Northern University. They’re using a Microsoft Kinect, and a Leap Motion to create a natural user interface for controlling humanoid robots.

The robot the team is using for this project is a tracked humanoid robot they’ve affectionately come to call Johnny Five.  Johnny takes commands from a computer, Kinect, and Leap motion to move the chassis, arm, and gripper around in a way that’s somewhat natural, and surely a lot easier than controlling a humanoid robot with a keyboard.

The team has also released all their software onto Github under an open source license. You can grab that over on the Gits, or take a look at some of the pics and videos from the Columbus Mini Maker Faire.