Virtual world becomes reality

A collaboration between University of Warwick’s Warwick Manufacturing Group and virtual reality company, VR Systems UK, may bring the virtual reality world of the Starship Enterprise’s Holodeck a step closer to fruition with the development of a Cybersphere.

Virtual environments have been extensively used in planetariums and military flight simulators where images are projected onto the inside of a large hemispherical surface or in CAVE systems, whereby images are back-projected onto walls and the floor of a room.

However all of these suffer one important limitation – the inability for users to move around the virtual environment in a natural way.

Warwick Manufacturing Group researcher, Vinesh Raja, and VR Systems Principal Design Engineer Julian Eyre, have found that the Cybersphere can solve these problems by mounting a large – 3.5 metres in diameter – hollow, translucent sphere on a ring of bearings. An additional low-pressure cushion of air allows the sphere to rotate in any direction.

The walking motion of a person in the centre of the sphere causes it to rotate. The movement of the large sphere is transferred to a smaller secondary sphere which is held against the large projection sphere by means of spring loaded supports.

Rotation sensors then measure the movement of the smaller sphere, and the signals are used to update the images projected on the surface of the large sphere allowing an observer to walk, run, or crawl in any direction.

A number of high power projectors are used to project the images, which merge to provide a fully immersive visual experience for the observer, and gives the illusion of walking freely through the computer generated environment.

Collaborators on the project are already in discussion with organisations wishing to use the technology for applications as diverse as computer gaming, military and factory design projects.

The prototype Cybersphere will be one of the new technologies on display when the University of Warwick’s Warwick Manufacturing Group, launches a new virtual reality 3D complex on Tuesday October 24.

More on the web at www.ndirect.co.uk/~vr-systems/sphere1.htm