If we want people to act and react in a virtual world as in the real world, it is sensible to use immersion. However we perceive, there are three problems with immersive interfaces that have prevented their universal uptake. Immersive interfaces are generally expensive; unsuited to routine use; and obtrusive. This is why immersion has generally remained in the laboratory rather than at work or in people’s homes. However, the emergence of commodity immersive displays, tracking and software has radically changed this landscape over the past three years.
SpaceWalk is a low cost experimental platform that enables participants to experience full-body immersion in virtual reality while walking around living-room sized real-world spaces. The platform combines a commodity Head Mounted Display (Oculus Rift), with a depth based camera (Kinect) capturing movement of body and limbs within the space. A notebook (Surface 2 Pro), worn on the back, runs a game engine (Unity) with our own extensions that integrate the components.
The setup for the SpaceWalk platform is split into two components: A wireless VR backpack the user and a motion tracking station.
The user’s VR setup consists of a backpack with a notebook connected to Oculus Rift VR glasses. We used an external phone charger battery pack and connected it to the Oculus Rift Controller Box to provide the Oculus Rift VR glasses with power. The Oculus Rift was connected via the mini display port to HDMI adapter and a HDMI cable to a Microsoft Surface 2 Pro.
The software on User’s VR Backpack connects with the server on the tracking station. It receives the 20 positional tracking points including the position of of the users head, arms and legs. The tracking points are used to update the user position in the space and the user’s avatar accordingly. The tracking supports walk, crouch and lean movements as well as whole body rotations.
The Oculus Rift VR glasses on the user’s head provide head rotation and tilt tracking. The game engine on the tablet computer receives the tracking data from the connected Oculus Rift and the tracking station through a peer to peer Wi-Fi connection and provides the user with the ability to freely look around in a virtual 3D space. Headphones connected to notebook provide the user with sounds and music. Once the user wears the VR backpack and the HMD there are no wires that the user can trip over while being immersed in the virtual environment.
The Tracking Station is connected to a Microsoft Kinect for Windows depth camera. The Microsoft Kinect for Windows depth has practical tracking area of approximately 6 m2. The tracking station uses Unity 4 in conjunction with the Microsoft Kinect SDK to provide positional tracking of the user.
If made more compelling, easier to use and setup, Virtual Reality could become an important platform that unlocks new paradigms for work, learning and entertainment in small environments such as people’s homes.
The Spacewalk system will be presented at the ICEC 2014 conference.