Developing experimental multimedia technology and applications.
Virtual Reality (VR) is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment. The term ‘virtual reality’ basically means ‘near-reality’. VR is a computer-generated artificial environment that allows a user to view, explore, and manipulate the environment. Virtual reality is a computer generated reality manipulated and explored using various input devices such as goggles, headphones, gloves, or a computer. Using these devices a user can browse throughout a virtual world or pickup and manipulate virtual objects.
Humans comprehend external reality by the five senses of hearing, vision, taste, touch, and smell. If one or more input from these senses is replaced by machine generated input, that person is, to some degree, in an artificial or virtual reality. Virtual Reality’s most immediately-recognizable component is the head-mounted display (HMD). Major players in Virtual Reality include HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR.
In 1935 Stanley Weinbaum released Pygmalion’s Spectacles – a science fiction story. The story’s main character wears a pair of goggles which transports him to a fictional world which stimulates his senses aptly and features holographic recordings. Some consider it to be the origin of the virtual reality (VR) concept as this story was a good prediction of the aims and achievements of the future.
In the story, the main character, Dan Burke, meets an elfin professor, Albert Ludwig, who invented a pair of goggles which enabled “a movie that gives one sight and sound […] taste, smell, and touch. […] You are in the story, you speak to the shadows (characters) and they reply, and instead of being on a screen, the story is all about you, and you are in it.”
The first VR technical developments were in the 1950s when Cinematographer Morton Heilig created Sensorama, the first VR machine (patented in 1962). Sensorama was a large booth that could fit up to four people at a time. It combined multiple technologies to stimulate all of the senses: there was a combined full colour 3D video, audio, vibrations, smell and atmospheric effects, such as wind. This was done using scent producers, a vibrating chair, stereo speakers and a stereoscopic 3D screen. Heilig thought that the Sensorama was the “cinema of the future” and he wanted to fully immerse people in their films. In 1960 Heilig also patented the Telesphere Mask which was the first head-mounted display (HMD) which provided stereoscopic 3D images with wide vision and stereo sound. There was no motion tracking in the headset at this point.
In 1977 MIT developed Aspen Movie Map. This program enabled users to virtually wander through Aspen city in Colorado. There were three modes: summer, winter and polygons. It was created using photographs from a car driving through the city. There were no HMDs but it was the use of first-person interactivity and it suggested that VR could transport people to other places. Within a couple of years the US military had integrated VR into HMD’s allowing a head tracker to follow an air force pilot’s eye movements to match computer generated imagery of the scene below.
The first wired gloves were created by Sandin and Defanti. They monitored hand movements by using light emitters and photocells in the gloves’ fingers. In 1985 Jaron Lanier and Thomas Zimmerman founded VPL Research, Inc. This company is known as the first company to sell VR HMD’s and gloves. Lanier is said to have popularised the term “Virtual Reality”. Around this time Dimension International created a software that could build 3D worlds in a PC.
As we venture into developing things for the world of VR, there are two main things that are needed to work with and they are real-time engines and modelling software. Up until recently, real-time engines were mostly used for games, but now virtual reality is blowing this whole concept open and these real-time engines are used for virtual tourism, medical training, psychotherapy, meditation, education, architectural visualization, military applications and car manufacture amongst other things.
Unreal Engine – Cost: Free
Unity 3D – Cost: Free
Cryengine – Cost: Pay what you want
Lumberyard –Cost: Free
Blender – Cost: Free, Open Source
Sculptris – Cost: Free
Maya, Softimage, and 3DS max
CAD: Programs like Autodesk’s Fusion 360, Design-spark Mechanical, TinkerCAD, and FreeCAD are intended for making accurate 3 dimensional constructions. However, these are usually not ideal for modeling assets for real-time engines as their focus is on physical accuracy and they don’t have many tools for optimizing for a real-time environment. That is to say, workflows for optimization do exist for CAD software and you can harness that after you’ve figured out the tool sets.
Adobe Photoshop – Best option but expensive.
Gimp – Cost: Free GNU Image Manipulation Program. Works cross-platform.
Paint.net – Cost: Free. Easy interface.
Audacity – Cost: free. Record, tweak speed and pitch, Many features.
OcenAudio – Cost: free. Not as many features as Audacity so interface a bit easier to navigate
Visual Studio Community – Cost: free ………. tons of documentation
Notepad++ Cost: free
Visual Studio Code
Object-Oriented programming/ Virtual Programming:
Object-Oriented programming can be beneficial to teaching code as it allows the user to learn the concept while working in the 3d environment and everything in VR is an object of course. This example uses a Unity game-engine with a real-time Python programming VR environment where people can write Python code and see the effects of the code they write on the world around them instantly. (https://youtu.be/AZWDstrN2yg)
Also a live-coding environment for VR. It presents you with a barren virtual world and a text editor. You type code into the text editor and the code creates and manipulates objects in the world. The world updates in real-time as you type each character.”
You can use Google Cardboard to turn your smartphone into a VR platform. Your phone can display 3D scenes with stereoscopic rendering, track and react to head movements, and interact with apps by detecting when the user presses the viewer button. The Google VR SDK (Software Development Kit) for iOS contains tools for spatial audio that go far beyond simple left side/right side audio cues to offer 360 degrees of sound. You can also control the tonal quality of the sound, detect button presses, determine when the user is looking at something and render stereoscopic images by rendering a different view for each eye. The great thing about Google Cardboard is that you can make your own VR goggles with everyday objects found at home: cardboard, lenses, magnets, hook and loop fastener and a rubber band. https://vr.google.com/cardboard/ works with Unity but not very well.
Development / Current Applications
In a recent interview with Vive, the director of Lucid, an immersive VR short film nominated at Cannes Film Festival, speaks about how virtual Reality allows us to imagine and create impossible worlds touching on personal experiences which are both fantastical and beautiful. Lucid explores neuroscience and exploring the mind which are central to the VR experience. He goes on to say
“We think that virtual reality is the future of storytelling. However, there is still a long way to go before VR headsets are adopted as mainstream, and we believe that location-based entertainment will be hugely important in making this happen. There is still a bit of work to be done to break people’s preconception that virtual reality is just for video games, and with more theatrical, narrative based hyper-reality experiences like The Void, we hope that the public perception of VR will start to shift.”
Avoiding simulator sickness
Virtual reality introduces a new set of physiological considerations for design. Like flight simulators used by pilots in training, virtual reality has the potential to present mismatches between physical and visual motion cues. This mismatch can produce nausea known as “simulator sickness,” when your eyes think you’re moving, but your body does not. Most VR technology face several constraints, including technical challenges and simulation sickness. These issues may be due to computer latency, which manifests in a poor simulation and a less than satisfactory end-user experience. Understanding the physiological effects of virtual reality design, and following these guidelines, is critical to making an app a success and ensuring that users avoid simulator sickness.
Raymond Kurzweil, American author, computer scientist, inventor and futurist predicts that, in a matter of years, physical workplaces will be a thing of the past, replaced by virtual ones. By 2020, virtual reality and augmented reality are predicted to rake in an estimated $162 billion in revenue. So, if there is real estate to be had (even if it’s virtual) people will pop up to buy and sell it. Genesis City is a plot of virtual land roughly the size of Washington, D.C., that investors can buy slices of for obscene amounts of money. Even a simple 1,100 square foot plot can go for as much as $200,000. The company behind Genesis City, called Decentraland offered interested buyers a chance to exchange cryptocurrency for virtual land. It raised $26 million in just 30 seconds from private investors, enthusiasts, and VR companies when the virtual land parcels went to auction.
VR has recently been applied to training and education, where users can learn to operate complicated machines, such as airplanes; how to work in dangerous environments, such as burning buildings; in entertainment, such as videogames; and visualization, for instance, allowing users to “walk” through buildings that have yet to be built.
Virtual reality is not perfect; there are still some glitches. But there’s reason to believe that virtual reality technology is here to stay. It’s not hype anymore. Still, it needs to improve vastly. The best headsets are great right now, but they’re not perfect. Resolution needs to keep getting better and better. The headsets need to keep getting lighter and more comfortable. People don’t want to do VR for a half hour or an hour or two because they’ve got this big thing on their face.
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