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.
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.
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.
A big challenge in the VR world is getting haptic feedback no matter where you are. That’s not so much of a problem when you’re sitting in a chair, the hardware can be attached to the chair or to something near you, what’s referred to as grounded force-feedback. But with VR, we’ve gotten used to at least moving around a room. How then do you feel the recoil of a gun, the pressure against a shield, the inertia of a sword slicing through the air, or the pulsations of magic sword emitting lightning?
A team of researchers at the [MAKinteract Lab] at KAIST, a university in South Korea, have come up with a small device which straps to your wrist and provides all those types of feedback. It’s called the Wind-Blaster and consists of two ducted propellers which can provide up to 1.5N of force. Both propellers are mounted on servos, and with the help of an IMU, the propellers are oriented as needed. An Arduino doing PWM controls the motor speeds.
Fire a VR shotgun and the propellers quickly spin up to 33,000 RPM for just 250 ms, giving your lower arm a quick backward tug, providing the feel of a recoiling gun. Swing a VR sword through the air and the propellers rotate at 33,000 RPM for 400 ms and then linearly decelerate to a stop in 300 ms. Making the propellers move asynchronously with respect to each other causes rotation torque on your arm for a pulsating feeling for the magic lightning-emitting sword. A connected PC runs the games using the Unity game engine. As with drones, there is noise at around 41 dB but the user’s headphones block it out. Watch it in action in the videos below.
[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!
The browser you are reading this page in will be an exceptionally powerful piece of software, with features and APIs undreamed of by the developers of its early-1990s ancestors such as NCSA Mosaic. For all that though, it will very probably be visually a descendant of those early browsers, a window for displaying two-dimensional web pages.
Some of this may be about to change, as in recognition of the place virtual reality devices are making for themselves, Mozilla have released Firefox Reality, in their words “a new web browser designed from the ground up for stand-alone virtual and augmented reality headset“. For now it will run on Daydream and GearVR devices as a developer preview, but the intended target for the software is a future generation of hardware that has yet to be released.
Readers with long memories may remember some of the hype surrounding VR in browsers back in the 1990s, when crystal-ball-gazers who’d read about VRML would hail it as the Next Big Thing without pausing to think about whether the devices to back it up were on the market. It could be that this time the hardware will match the expectation, and maybe one day you’ll be walking around the Hackaday WrencherSpace rather than reading this in a browser. See you there!
They’ve released a video preview that disappointingly consists of a 2D browser window in a VR environment. But it’s a start.