Tech Innovation

Project Alloy, Merged Reality and defining the future at IDF 2016 San Francisco

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter

If you thought that the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR were the biggest names in virtual reality headsets, you might need to add Project Alloy to the list. Except that it’s not strictly a set of Intel-powered VR goggles. Instead, it’s a window into ‘merged reality’, where virtual reality and augmented reality intertwine.

Announced at IDF 2016 San Francisco, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich sees merged reality delivering “virtual world experiences more dynamically and naturally than ever before” — playing on a virtual tennis court with a real racket, experiencing a “sporting event, a concert or a film scene from any point of view.”

Project Alloy also tackles three of the limitations of current VR systems with help from Intel’s RealSense technology. Firstly, there are no trailing cables connecting the headset to a VR-Ready PC. Project Alloy doesn’t need a PC. Or a smartphone for that matter. The headset incorporates its own computing power.

Intel’s Craig Raymond displays the Project Alloy virtual reality headset at IDF 2016 San Francisco
Intel’s Craig Raymond displays the Project Alloy virtual reality headset at IDF 2016 San Francisco.

Untethering the headset gives the wearer more freedom of movement, not just to look all around a merged reality space, but to physically explore it.

Where the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive enable similar ‘room-scale VR’ through multiple external sensors, Project Alloy doesn’t need these either. Depth-perceiving, room-scanning, headset-tracking Intel RealSense cameras are built right into the headset.

These 3D cameras drive the merged reality experience. They allow you to move around in an immersive virtual world, but still have the ability to view your own hands in front of you, the people around you, doors you need to open, coffee tables you need to avoid.

Intel Project Alloy
Project Alloy uses Intel RealSense cameras to create its merged reality environments.

Not only can you see real-world elements, but you can use your hands to interact with elements in a virtual world, merging the realities together. So no touch controllers or joypads are required either. Project Alloy is a different experience.

If all this sounds HoloLens-like, you’re not far off. As well as using Intel’s Replay 360-degree technologies to render virtual content, Project Alloy will ultimately work with the 2017 Windows Holographic Shell, a Windows 10 update that will enable most PCs (not just VR-ready gaming rigs) to run merged reality applications.

Project Alloy might be hogging the IDF 2016 limelight, but there were several other cool technologies that caught the eye. The Intel Joule is an Edison-sized maker board with an Intel RealSense depth-sensing camera. Two versions will be available for avid inventors — the 550x featuring a quad-core Atom T5500 processor and the 570x with an Atom T5700.

It launches alongside the Intel RealSense Robotic Development Kit (for robotic prototyping) and the Intel RealSense ZR300 Development Kit (featuring autonomous mapping and navigation functionality). The Intel Euclid Developer Kit, meanwhile, integrates sense, compute, and connect capabilities in an all-in-one form-factor the size of a chocolate bar.

Finally, keep an eye out for the Intel RealSense Camera 400, which offers “improved accuracy with more than double the number of 3D points captured per second and more than double the operating range compared with the previous generation.”

Because without RealSense, Project Alloy’s merged reality just wouldn’t be possible.

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