The term “virtual reality” is now widely used, so we decided to figure out what the industry has achieved and interview the Russian creators of the hyperreality system called “The Psycho.”
What is virtual reality?
Though VR seems to be a flashy and new technology, its concept comes from the distant past. Back in the 1860s, Antonin Artaud already started working on stereoscopic images in theaters. But it took almost 100 years for the first virtual reality system to arrive – it was called Sensorama and was developed by Morton Heilig in 1962. It was essentially the first 3D theater and showed short feature films.
Fast forward to 2010, when American teen Palmer Luckey created a virtual reality helmet he called Oculus Rift. It was a turning point for VR and Facebook paid attention to that. In March 2014, Facebook bought Oculus for $2.4 billion. The fact that Mark Zuckerberg himself was interested in the technology focused the entire industry on VR, and after the launch of VR Ready chips by Intel, the technology became widely available.
Virtual Reality comes in many shapes and sizes
Most consumers emerge themselves in VR with glasses and headsets. They are the most widely available devices and combine 3D technology and computer software running on systems with at least an Intel® Core™ i5 processor. As these devices are worn on the head, this technology is called HMD (Head-Mounted Display). Inside such devices two displays translate an image to one eye (monocular HMD) or two eyes (binocular HMD). Two displays also mean two images, which are not exactly the same. When combined, these images sent to each eye create a 3D effect. The most famous products in this category are Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR.
Phone-based glasses are a budget version of virtual reality. In this case, a cell phone located close to the eyes acts as a screen, which creates the feeling of immersion in a virtual world. The most popular models on the market are the Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard/Daydream. Google Cardboard deserves a special mention, because it actually is a cardboard box which you can put a phone in. Google offers several versions of these boxes and encourages users to create their own, which has engaged thousands of minds all over the world.
In this case, a display uses the physics of vision, i.e., dimensional perception and motion parallax. Following eye movements, the display continuously adjusts the object so that it appears to be in 3D. The most famous MotionParallax3D products are the Amazon Fire Phone, ZSpace, NettleBox, and EON ICube (CAVE). CAVE, projects an image onto four or six walls and immerses the user in an atmospheric reality. In it, the user can control what is happening with different devices like joysticks or virtual reality gloves.
Hybrid Systems – Project Alloy
These include virtual retinal monitors, which are systems that project the image directly onto the retina. There are also different subtypes of HMD displays which project the image onto actual reality or onto an image created by a camera. The most interesting product in this segment is Project Alloy from Intel, which is a merged-reality headset prototype. First of all, the headset does not have to be connected to a computer. Instead, all the required hardware is built into it, making it autonomous. Second, Intel® RealSense™ technology projects virtual reality onto real objects, and the gamer’s hands are scanned and look real inside the virtual space. You can’t bump into an object, because all external objects are reflected in the virtual reality environment. As a result, VR becomes limitless! Next year Intel promised to release hardware blueprints to manufacturers, so 2018 might just be another year of turning points for VR. new turning point.
What Can I Touch Here?
Virtual reality technologies are going through a period of rapid development, so every manufacturer is trying to come up with an original innovation, including with control systems. Gamepads, joysticks and other controllers are the simplest and most effective controls, which makes them the most popular ones used. Once you have Vive, Oculus Touch or PlayStation Move controls in your hands, you will find yourself intuitively pushing buttons, moving your fingers over the sensors, or simply using one of the joysticks.
But joysticks are kind of old-school, don’t you think? Eye tracking systems are an actively developing technology which aim to partially or completely replace hand-held controls. There are many interesting technologies around, but FOVE 0 is the most advanced eye tracker on the market today.
But what about not only taking your vision to VR but also experiencing movements with your whole body? Well, so-called hardware systems such as the Birdly Virtual Reality Simulator got you covered. The user simply climbs onto the robot-assisted flight simulator and soars away.
Moreover, different types of virtual reality use different sound effects, voice controls, smells, tactile and even taste sensations.
They May Have Virtual Reality, but We’ve Got the Real World!
One of the more interesting projects involving VR is ThePsycho, developed by the Russian company Psycho Technology in St. Petersburg. They developed a software/hardware system based on MSI laptops with Intel® Core™ i7 processors and Oculus Rift VR glasses. As the glasses are connected to the laptop, they are able to process data from sensors located on a special suit. Additionally to that, Psycho Technology created a virtual world from scratch and provides wireless controls (including body, arm, leg, and head motion).
But it took some work to get there, as Bushuev Vladimir, CEO of Psycho Technology explains: “First we created our own virtual reality backpack. After successfully testing our prototype, we invited MSI to work with us. They were surprised because our backpack anticipated a similar product they’d been working on. All the same, we decided to work with their hardware, as it had an excellent reputation, looked great, was compact, and cost the same. Later MSI representatives came to us to collect feedback and see their backpacks in action.”
The developers from St. Petersburg worked for a long time on sheer enthusiasm alone until they attracted the investments required to start their business. Even now, their enthusiasm hasn’t diminished one bit. “We’ve repeatedly used VR devices and thought:‘It’d be so cool if there were no limits, no wires, nothing tying us to the computer. Just put it on and interact with virtual reality, delve even further into it than ever before“, Glivenko Yurij, COO of Psycho Technology explains.
By merging the latest technologies and their own creations, ThePsycho has emerged as one of the world leaders in virtual reality and approximates “merged reality,” where objects in the virtual world are overlaid onto the real one. So, where you would open a door, you open a real door but with overlaid virtual effects. Moreover, the system can be scaled up to include 20 players at the same time, a feat that has not been achieved yet in most existing VR systems.
So where is VR going in the future? Hyperreality creators’ and many experts share the same vision on that: Continuing development of hardware and decreasing costs might lead to whole backpacks of computing power being transferred to glasses, reduced energy consumption and then implementation into everyday life. Bushuev Vladimir agrees: “It’d be nice to believe that VR will become less and less cumbersome, going from translating images to lenses to direct neurointerfaces. But for now this is far off, and we’re just trying to improve the experience you can get now.”