All The Good VR Ideas Were Dreamt Up In The 60s

Virtual reality has seen enormous progress in the past few years. Given its recent surges in development, it may come as a bit of a surprise to learn that the ideas underpinning what we now call VR were laid way back in the 60s. Not all of the imagined possibilities have come to pass, but we’ve learned plenty about what is (and isn’t) important for a compelling VR experience, and gained insights as to what might happen next.

If virtual reality’s best ideas came from the 60s, what were they, and how did they turn out?

Interaction and Simulation

First, I want to briefly cover two important precursors to what we think of as VR: interaction and simulation. Prior to the 1960s, state of the art examples for both were the Link Trainer and Sensorama.

The Link Trainer was an early kind of flight simulator, and its goal was to deliver realistic instrumentation and force feedback on aircraft flight controls. This allowed a student to safely gain an understanding of different flying conditions, despite not actually experiencing them. The Link Trainer did not simulate any other part of the flying experience, but its success showed how feedback and interactivity — even if artificial and limited in nature — could allow a person to gain a “feel” for forces that were not actually present.

Sensorama was a specialized pod that played short films in stereoscopic 3D while synchronized to fans, odor emitters, a motorized chair, and stereo sound. It was a serious effort at engaging a user’s senses in a way intended to simulate an environment. But being a pre-recorded experience, it was passive in nature, with no interactive elements.

Combining interaction with simulation effectively had to wait until the 60s, when the digital revolution and computers provided the right tools.

The Ultimate Display

In 1965 Ivan Sutherland, a computer scientist, authored an essay entitled The Ultimate Display (PDF) in which he laid out ideas far beyond what was possible with the technology of the time. One might expect The Ultimate Display to be a long document. It is not. It is barely two pages, and most of the first page is musings on burgeoning interactive computer input methods of the 60s.

The second part is where it gets interesting, as Sutherland shares the future he sees for computer-controlled output devices and describes an ideal “kinesthetic display” that served as many senses as possible. Sutherland saw the potential for computers to simulate ideas and output not just visual information, but to produce meaningful sound and touch output as well, all while accepting and incorporating a user’s input in a self-modifying feedback loop. This was forward-thinking stuff; recall that when this document was written, computers weren’t even generating meaningful sounds of any real complexity, let alone visual displays capable of arbitrary content. Continue reading “All The Good VR Ideas Were Dreamt Up In The 60s”

Homebuilt Racing Sim Does Almost Everything From Scratch

If you desire a sim gaming rig, there are off-the-shelf options up and down the market that stretch as high as your budget can afford. Some choose to eschew this route, however and build their own from scratch. Few people go quite so far as [Popicasa POPStuDio], however.

The first version of the rig is about as hacked as you can possibly get, and it’s a joy to see it built from scrap. The wheel itself and the pedals are all built out of old PVC pipe, with a bunch of old wood screwed together for the frame. A cheap USB gamepad serves to handle input to the PC for the pedals and H-shifter. The H-shifter uses simple power switches, repurposed in an ingenious way to sense gear position. The knob itself is cast out of what appears to be hot glue. Steering is done by connecting the wheel to a flexible shaft that tips a smartphone back and forth, using its internal accelerometers and gyros to sense rotation. It’s not clear how this is tied into the PC running Project CARS, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

Version 2 of the build takes things up a notch, using an Arduino Leonardo to handle steering and pedal functions as a Human Interface Device. There’s also force feedback, via a hefty motor attached to the steering shaft via a belt drive. This version implements an H-shifter as well as paddle shifters too for a more modern experience.

Both builds are unique in the modern era for eschewing CNC or 3D printed parts. It’s all done by hand, taking days of effort, and using only basic tools. It’s refreshing to see such a complex build done with nothing but simple materials and sheer commitment. We’re sure [Popicasa POPStuDio] enjoys the rig, and we can’t wait to see where it goes next. Perhaps the next iteration will even feature a motion platform, perhaps built out of old forklift parts? Only time will tell. Video after the break.

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Fans Add Reality To Virtual Driving

A few decades ago you might have been satisfied with a crude wireframe flight simulator or driving a race car with the WASD keys. Today, gamers expect more realism, and [600,000 milliliters] is no different. At first, he upgraded his race car driving chair and put on VR goggles. But watching the world whiz by in VR is you can’t feel the wind on your face. Armed with a 3D printer, some software, and some repurposed PC fans, he can now feel the real wind in virtual reality. You can see the build in the video, below.

The electronics are relatively straightforward and there is already software available. The key, though, is the giant 3D printed ducts that direct the airflow. These are big prints, so probably not for some printers, but printers are getting bigger every day. The fan parts are from Thingiverse, but the enclosures are custom and you can download them from the blog post.

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Real Spectrum Analysis Goes Virtual

One of the hard things about electronics is that you can’t really see the working parts without some sort of tool. If you work on car engines, fashion swords, or sculpt clay, you can see with your unaided eye what’s going on. Electronic components are just abstract pieces and the real action requires a meter or oscilloscope to understand. Maybe that’s what [José] was thinking of when he built a-radio. This “humble experiment” pipes a scan from a software-defined radio into VR goggles, which can be as simple as a smartphone and some cardboard glasses.

The resulting image shows you what the radio spectrum looks like. Granted, so will a spectrum analyzer, but perhaps the immersion will provide a different kind of insight into radio frequency analysis.

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As Facebook Tightens Their Grip On VR, Jailbreaking Looks More Likely

The Quest 2 wireless VR headset by Oculus was recently released, and improves on the one-and-a-half year old Quest mainly in terms of computing power and screen resolution. But Oculus is owned by Facebook, a fact that Facebook is increasingly keen on making very clear. The emerging scene is one that looks familiar: a successful hardware device, and a manufacturer that wants to keep users in a walled garden while fully controlling how the device can be used. Oculus started out very differently, but the writing has been on the wall for a while. Rooting and jailbreaking the Quest 2 seems inevitable, but what will happen then? Continue reading “As Facebook Tightens Their Grip On VR, Jailbreaking Looks More Likely”

Open Source VR Headset For $200

We’ve seen homemade VR headsets before, but, often they are dependent on special software or are not really up to par with commercial products. Not so with Relativity, an open source project from [Max Coutte] and [Gabriel Combe]. [Max] says it best:

Relativty is not a consumer product. We made Relativty in my bedroom with a soldering iron and a 3D printer and we expect you to do the same: build it yourself.

Unlike some homebrew gear, Relativity has full Steam VR support. It also has experimental support for positional scaling that tracks your body based on video input.

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VR Technology Helps Bring A Galaxy Far, Far Away To Our TV

Virtual reality is usually an isolated individual experience very different from the shared group experience of a movie screen or even a living room TV. But those worlds of entertainment are more closely intertwined than most audiences are aware. Video game engines have been taking a growing role in film and television production behind the scenes, and now they’re stepping out in front of the camera in a big way for making The Mandalorian TV series.

Big in this case is a three-quarters cylindrical LED array 75 ft (23 m) in diameter and 20 ft (6 m) high. But the LEDs covering its walls and ceiling aren’t pointing outwards like some installation for Times Square. This setup, called the Volume, points inward to display background images for camera and crew working within. It’s an immersive LED backdrop and stage environment.

Incorporating projected imagery on stage is a technique going at least as far back as 1933’s King Kong, but it is very limited. Lighting and camera motion has to be very constrained in order to avoid breaking the fragile illusion. More recently, productions have favored green screens replaced with computer imagery in post production. It removed most camera motion and lighting constraints, but costs a lot of money and time. It is also more difficult for actors to perform their roles convincingly against big blank slabs of green. The Volume solves all of those problems by putting computer-generated imagery on set, rendered in real time via video game engine Unreal.

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