Oculus VR, an Irvine, California-based company, started shipping their $300 goggles to software developers in March. What’s so great about these goggles? They allow a gamer to actually put themselves in a virtual world created by a computer.
The cool part, however, is that these particular Oculus Rift goggles are starting to make their way into applications that are not just for gamers.
NASA believes scientists and the public alike, could explore Mars’ surface through virtual reality; rather than via spaceship travel. An Indiana manufacturer researches ways to save money by using VR to demonstrate products. Michigan architects can visualize a home that hasn’t had any construction started yet.
The goggles are not finished; they’re still a work-in-progress. People still experience motion sickness due to the lack of ability to track the full-range of our motions.
Walt Scacchi, University of California-Irvine’s Institute for Virtual Environments and Computer Games’ research director, believes that people prefer something better than “wandering around with a head-mounted display in a 3-D stereoscopic world.” However, he is also confident that technology will improve for VR including less delay and improved screen resolution, which will empower the immersiveness we can experience in virtual reality environments.
Getting On Top of the Problems
The company is already trying to solve the problems above and others not fully made aware yet. In June, Oculus raised $16 million in venture capital, and they’re using those funds to hire VR experts to tackle these issues. They take the feedback from users very seriously and have sold over 35,000 developer kits.
The Orange County Register actually requested some feedback from many people that have tried using the Oculus Rift in different industries, to get an idea of how they’re using VR in their industry, as well as what they feel is holding the technology back.
Matterport is a Mountain View, California-based firm. The firm has raised ten million dollars to build a camera that will make 3-D room models (as well as other interior spaces) with accuracy and that can be shared online. In other words, envision being able to redecorate your home virtually before actually taking the first step to do so. The CEO of the firm, Matt Bell, provided some feedback and insight.
Matt Bell, the CEO, said that one of his favorite experiences with Rift was the preschool. He had the user height set to 3 feet so he could explore the preschool as if he was a preschooler. He said it brought back a lot of memories including posters high on the walls, countertops that were unreachable, and toys all over the ground. He also said that he has never actually been to that preschool, only through Rift. They captured images of the entire school which included many large rooms. Bell stated that it took approximately 90 minutes to capture the whole building and that processing it into a 3D model took half an hour and was a fully automatic process.
Walking on Mars
A lab with a focus on projects that alter the way humans control and interact with spacecraft, is the Missions Operations Innovation Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory based in Pasadena, California. The leading computer scientist heading this mission is Jeff Norris. Prior to this position he actually worked on the development and uplink system to command the Mars Curiosity Rover.
"One of the things we're investigating is the use of immersive displays for looking at data returned from spacecraft. We're looking at virtual reality technology as a way for our scientists and engineers to better understand the environment around a spacecraft and then better control that spacecraft.”
He also said that they are going to look at using the technology to share the missions with people of the public and that devices such as Rift which are inexpensive are making it easier to reach a much more broad audience.
Norris also said that it is not hard to imagine that in the near future the majority of the public will have access to this technology and will be able to experience the journeys right alongside them. He said it is now possible to put devices such as Rift into the hands of mission science teams.
One NASA demo takes information from the Curiosity Rover on Mars and turns it into panoramic views, as if you were sitting on the vehicle looking around. Another lets you move around the International Space Station, in 3-D, using an Xbox controller.
"If we put humans on Mars someday, we should have millions of people there with them standing beside them in this holodeck-like way. In 1969, the television was the most engaging and effective medium for bringing the world along. It was the perfect choice at the time. It's not the perfect choice now."
Lose the Tanks
A company located near Indianapolis makes pressure vessels; Wessels Co. These pressure vessels are huge containers (up to 12 feet across) that are costly to buy (thousands) and may end up being used as part of a water-heating or drinking-water system. Jay Fuller works for the company and provided his feedback on VR in their industry.
Fuller stated that they do a few large industry tradeshows every year and that it involves shipping some very large tanks between the convention halls which can get to be expensive. He thought it would be a better idea to use virtual reality to showcase their larger tanks in a demo at these tradeshows.
They model all of their tanks using SolidWorks. SolidWorks is a 3D modeling software program. Fuller said it was relatively a painless process to convert the tanks into meshes that were suitable for the game engine. They are planning on premiering their finished demo at the biggest tradeshow in January. That tradeshow is in New York and called the AHR Expo.
The Virtual Architect
Wisconsin-based consultancy firm, Arch Virtual, is spearheaded by the lead developer, Jon Brouchoud who possesses a master’s degree in architecture. Brouchoud was hired to create 3D walk-throughs of buildings for web browsers. That was before the Oculus Rift came to be. Now he maintains a steady stream of work for a variety of clients that includes universities, architects, corporations and real estate developers, and ports the work to the Oculus gear.
"We've been focusing on short and sweet experiences. We're finding that just putting an Oculus Rift on someone is enough all by itself to just blow people away. There's a bit of overhyping in terms of game development. It might just be because I'm not a game developer. I don't see people wearing this for extended periods of time playing long game experiences - first-person shooters, where they're running around.
Brouchoud said that most of the people that they are showing their projects to have never used the Oculus Rift before. He said that they are typically not prepared and can only handle a few minutes of walking around but that is all that they need. He said you can stand inside the lobby of a building about to be constructed and walk around and really experience it.
Brouchoud also stated that most people who experience this are in awe. He said that possibly 1 in 30 people do not understand the experience. They tried out this demo on a hundred architects around San Fransisco and Chicago and most of them were blown away.