Commercially available head-mounted devices, which display three dimensional images according to viewing direction, already allow users to explore computer generated worlds. However, it hasn’t been possible yet to walk through these virtual realities without bumping into very real obstacles.
A team of researchers at the Vienna University of Technology has now built a so-called ‘Virtualizer’, which is claimed to allow for an almost natural walk through virtual spaces.
The user is kept in place with a belt within Virtualizer’s metal frame and a smooth, low-friction floor plate contains sensors that register every step. Rotations of the body are registered by the belt.
‘Coming to terms with the low friction takes a little bit of practice but soon one can run across the smooth sensor plate quite naturally,’ said Tuncay Cakmak, a student at TU Vienna who developed Virtualizer along with fellow students and virtual reality expert Hannes Kaufmann.
Digitalisation of human motion is already possible with markers that can be attached to the body that are then tracked with cameras. This is how motion capture for animated movies is achieved but expensive equipment is needed, and the user is confined to a relatively small space.
The Virtualizer can be used with standard 3D headgear, which picks up the users viewing direction and displays 3D pictures accordingly. This is independent from the leg motion, so running into one direction and looking into another is said to be possible.
Moving through virtual realities using a keyboard or a joystick can lead to a discrepancy between visual perception and other body sensations, which can lead to feelings of nausea. It is claimed that displayed visual data in the Virtualizer is in line with the user’s physical motion, so the feeling of presence in the virtual world is stronger, and it becomes easier to assess distances and proportions.
TU Vienna say the Virtualizer prototype - scheduled to enter the market in 2014 - is working well and only requires minor adjustments.
‘Some major companies have already expressed their interest – for us, however, it is important that the technological development remains in our hands’, Cakmak said in a statement. ‘Our first priority is to create a high quality product, but of course we want to offer it at the lowest possible price. Our product should lead virtual reality out of the research labs and into the gamers’ living rooms.’