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.

Immersive Augmented Reality on a Budget

By now we’ve all seen the cheap headsets that essentially stick a smartphone a few inches away from your face to function as a low-cost alternative to devices like Oculus Rift. Available for as little as a few dollars, it’s hard to beat these gadgets for experimenting with VR on a budget. But what about if you’re more interested in working with augmented reality, where rendered images are superimposed onto your real-world view rather than replacing it?

As it turns out, there are now cheap headsets to do that with your phone as well. [kvtoet] picked one of these gadgets up for $30 USD on AliExpress, and used it as a base for a more capable augmented reality experience than the headset alone is capable of. The project is in the early stages, but so far the combination of this simple headset and some hardware liberated from inexpensive Chinese smartphones looks to hold considerable promise for delivering a sub-$100 USD development platform for anyone looking to jump into this fascinating field.

On their own, these cheap augmented reality headsets simply show a reflection of your smartphone’s screen on the inside of the lenses. With specially designed applications, this effect can be used to give the wearer the impression that objects shown on the phone’s screen are actually in their field of vision. It’s a neat effect to be sure, but it doesn’t hold much in the way of practical applications. To turn this into a useful system, the phone needs to be able to see what the wearer is seeing.

To that end, [kvtoet] relocated a VKWorld S8 smartphone’s camera module onto the front of the headset. Beyond its relatively cost, this model of phone was selected because it featured a long camera ribbon cable. With the camera on the outside of the headset, an Android application was created which periodically flashes a bright LED and looks for reflections in the camera’s feed. These reflections are then used to locate objects and markers in the real world.

In the video after the break, [kvtoet] demonstrates how this technique is put to use. The phone is able to track a retroreflector laying on the couch quickly and accurately enough that it can be used to adjust the rendering of a virtual object in real time. As the headset is moved around, it gives the impression that the wearer is actually viewing a real object from different angles and distances. With such a simplistic system the effect isn’t perfect, but it’s exciting to think of the possibilities now that this sort of technology is falling into the tinkerer’s budget.

If you don’t want to go the DIY route, Leap Motion has been teasing an open source augmented reality headset which has us quite excited. We’re still waiting on the hardware, but that hasn’t stopped hackers from coming up with some fascinating AR applications in the meantime.

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Leap Motion’s Project North Star Gets Hardware

It’s been more than a year since we first heard about Leap Motion’s new, Open Source augmented reality headset. The first time around, we were surprised: the headset featured dual 1600×1440 LCDs, 120 Hz refresh rate, 100 degree FOV, and the entire thing would cost under $100 (in volume), with everything, from firmware to mechanical design released under Open licenses. Needless to say, that’s easier said than done. Now it seems Leap Motion is releasing files for various components and a full-scale release might be coming sooner than we think.

Leap Motion first made a name for themselves with the Leap Motion sensor, a sort of mini-Kinect that only worked with hands and arms. Yes, we’re perfectly aware that sounds dumb, but the results were impressive: everything turned into a touchscreen display, you could draw with your fingers, and control robots with your hands. If you mount one of these sensors to your forehead, and reflect a few phone screens onto your retinas, you have the makings of a stereoscopic AR headset that tracks the movement of your hands. This is an over-simplified description, but conceptually, that’s what Project North Star is.

The files released now include STLs of parts that can be 3D printed on any filament printer, files for the electronics that drive the backlight and receive video from a laptop, and even software for doing actual Augmented Reality stuff in Unity. It’s not a complete project ready for prime time, but it’s a far cry from the simple spec sheet full of promises we saw in the middle of last year.

A Low Cost VR Headset

Virtual reality systems have been at the forefront of development for several decades. While there are  commercial offerings now, it’s interesting to go back in time to when the systems were much more limited. [Colin Ord] recently completed his own VR system, modeled on available systems from 20-30 years ago, which gives us a look inside what those systems would have been like, as well as being built for a very low cost using today’s technology.

The core of this project is a head tracker, which uses two BBC Microbits as they have both the accelerometer and compass needed to achieve the project goals. It is also capable of tracking an item and its position in the virtual space. For this project, [Colin] built everything himself including the electronics and the programming. It also makes use of Google Cardboard to hold the screen, lenses, and sensors all in the headset. All of this keeps the costs down, unlike similar systems when they were first unveiled years ago.

The ground-up approach that this project takes is indeed commendable. Hopefully we can see the code released, and others can build upon this excellent work. You could even use it to take a virtual reality cycling tour of the UK.

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Home Built Flight Sim Combines Virtual and Actual Reality

Virtual Reality (VR) and actual reality often don’t mix: watch someone play a VR game without seeing what they see and you see a lot of pointless-looking flailing around. [Nerdaxic] may have found a balance that works in this flight sim setup that mixes VR and AR, though. He did this by combining the virtual cockpit controls of his fight simulator with real buttons, knobs, and dials. He uses an HTC Vive headset and a beefy PC to create the virtual side, which is mirrored with a real-world version. So, the virtual yoke is matched with a real one. The same is true of all of the controls, thanks to a home-made control panel that features all of the physical controls of a Cessna 172 Skyhawk.

[Nerdaxic] has released the plans for the project, including his 3D printable knobs for throttle and fuel/air mixture and the design for the wooden panel and assembly that holds all of the controls in the same place as they are in the real thing. He even put a fan in the system to produce a gentle breeze to enhance the feel of sticking your head out of the window — just don’t try that on a real aircraft.

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Homebrew Linear Actuators Put The Moves On This Motion Simulator

Breaking into the world of auto racing is easy. Step 1: Buy an expensive car. Step 2: Learn how to drive it without crashing. If you’re stuck at step 1, and things aren’t looking great for step 2 either, you might want to consider going with a virtual Porsche or Ferrari and spending your evenings driving virtual laps rather than real ones.

The trouble is, that can get a bit boring after a while, which is what this DIY motion simulator platform is meant to address. In a long series of posts with a load of build details, [pmvcda] goes through what he’s come up with so far on this work in progress. He’s building a Stewart platform, of the type we’ve seen before but on a much grander scale. This one will be large enough to hold a race car cockpit mockup, which explains the welded aluminum frame. We were most interested in the six custom-made linear actuators, though. Aluminum extrusions form the frame holding BLDC motor, and guide the nut of a long ball screw. There are a bunch of 3D-printed parts in the actuators, each of which is anchored to the frame and to the platform by simple universal joints. The actuators are a little on the loud side, but they’re fast and powerful, and they’ve got a great industrial look.

If car racing is not your thing and you’d rather build a full-motion flight simulator, here’s one that also uses DIY actuators.

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