In VR, a blink can be a window of opportunity to improve the user’s experience. We’ll explain how in a moment, but blinks are tough to capitalize on because they are unpredictable and don’t last very long. That’s why researchers spent time figuring out how to induce eye blinks on demand in VR (video) and the details are available in a full PDF report. Turns out there are some novel, VR-based ways to reliably induce blinks. If an application can induce them, it makes it easier to use them to fudge details in helpful ways.
It turns out that humans experience a form of change blindness during blinks, and this can be used to sneak small changes into a scene in useful ways. Two examples are hand redirection (HR), and redirected walking (RDW). Both are ways to subtly break the implicit one-to-one mapping of physical and virtual motions. Redirected walking can nudge a user to stay inside a physical boundary without realizing it, leading the user to feel the area is larger than it actually is. Hand redirection can be used to improve haptics and ergonomics. For example, VR experiences that use physical controls (like a steering wheel in a driving simulator, or maybe a starship simulator project like this one) rely on physical and virtual controls overlapping each other perfectly. Hand redirection can improve the process by covering up mismatches in a way that is imperceptible to the user.
There are several known ways to induce a blink reflex, but it turns out that one novel method is particularly suited to implementing in VR: triggering the menace reflex by simulating a fast-approaching object. In VR, a small shadow appears in the field of view and rapidly seems to approach one’s eyes. This very brief event is hardly noticeable, yet reliably triggers a blink. There are other approaches as well such as flashes, sudden noise, or simulating the gradual blurring of vision, but to be useful a method must be unobtrusive and reliable.
[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.