Wade Watts from Ready Player One using his Oasis headset

Five things that the future may hold for VR

With Ready Player One out in cinemas and a few new headsets on the horizon, Virtual Reality is in the news again. I’ve been a fan of VR since the original Developer Kit of the Oculus Rift (known as the DK1) went on Kickstarter, I remember when I first received the DK1 and tried it out in 2013, my world was changed forever.

Since then VR has managed to blow my mind only twice since. The first consumer Oculus Rift (The CV1) had a much higher screen resolution than the DK1 which meant that the Screen Door Effect (the ability to see the gaps in between the pixels often called the ‘SDE’ ) was drastically reduced (although not eliminated) which made for incredible immersion and then only a few weeks later when my HTC Vive arrived and I experienced Room Scale VR for the first time.

Then… nothing. It’s been almost two years since the Vive was released and apart from a few headsets which have improved the Screen Door Effect and a few improvements to hand tracking technology, there has been almost no improvement, which sadly has meant that the popularity of VR is starting to slow down. Which is a real tragedy as VR, when properly executed has the ability to truly change our world. Here are a few innovations I think will truly change the VR landscape in the near future:

1) Full-body tracking

Full-body tracking means that we don’t need wands or controllers which are capable of seeing where things are. Suits or bands could easily be applied that offer motion capture tech, along with a few tracking sensors at areas where our movable parts are and baby, you’ve got yourself a stew going.

Is it likely to happen soon?

It already has: Meet the Teslasuit

In a nutshell, the Teslasuit allows for haptic feedback, climate control and full-body tracking all in one suit. Initial reviews of the prototypes have suggested that this thing is a game-changer and increases immersion a considerable about. Hell, even just reliable, low-latency hand-tracking without the need for a controller will make a huge difference to VR so the fact that not only is it full-body tracking but it also provides haptic feedback makes this one of the most exciting VR innovations since room-scale.

2) True Haptic Feedback

Although some great progress has been made with haptic feedback (see #1 and #3) it’s still far from perfect, our bodies are incredibly sensitive and have the ability to experience a vast and incredibly subtle range of sensations and we are nowhere near simulating that successfully.

However, there are a few areas where I believe innovations can be made in the near future. Things like allowing the body to get a real tactile experience with virtual objects, for example finding a way to restrict hand movement in order to simulate the feel of holding a ball or finding a way to make your legs lock in place so you can sit down in a virtual seat.

Is it likely to happen soon?

Translation of our full suite of senses into VR is probably still many years away. This may not be achievable until we work out True Immersion VR (like the Matrix or the ‘Cookie’ from Black Mirror) but some things we’ve already come pretty damn close to creating. I’ll talk about this more in the next section as they are pretty closely linked.

3) World-scale VR

Room-scale VR was a watershed moment for Virtual Reality, the days of only being an observer are gone now users actually feel like they are inside a virtual world.

However it’s only a good first-step, what we really want is World-scale, I don’t want to have to restrict my movements so I don’t hit my TV with my hand, I don’t want to have to teleport around because my play space is only 2m x 3m and again, if there is a chair, I want to be able to sit in it.

Is it likely to happen soon?

Again there are multiple levels of this, some which are very close and some which can’t be achieved without True Immersion VR. It’s unlikely we’ll have a system which will allow for the sensation of flying or swimming (except perhaps in VR arcades where they are able to pay for and fit a huge haptic rig in their space) and any machine that actually controls the motion of your body will have to be incredibly well-tested so we never see ‘Man gets snapped in half in Haptic Rig’ headlines.

However moving around an ‘infinite’ space, crouching, sitting and even a bit of jumping are all on the cusp of being real. We already have some VR treadmills out in the wild (the most famous probably being the ‘Omni’ by Virtuix) but some of the really exciting stuff is still in development.

This is the Haptx Exosuit (formerly known as the Axon VR):

It is a combination of an exoskeleton and a motorised rig which, like the teslasuit also allows for the sensation of touch. At the moment the only part of this due for imminent release are the haptic gloves, which include the exoskeleton, the tactile feedback sensors and the motion tracking technology and appear to be able to bring our hands almost completely into VR. Sadly they don’t plan on creating consumer versions of this technology just yet. So whilst you may see this in a VR arcade in a year or so, it’s unlikely you’ll get one of these at home for quite some time.

The company has plans in place to scale up the exoskeleton tech to bring the full exo-suit to life in the next few years, that alongside the motorised rig should allow for true world-scale VR in the not-too-distant future.

The world of infinite treadmills is a lot more exciting, in fact the treadmill Wade Watts uses in ‘Ready Player One’ is a real device called the ‘Infinadeck’, it’s not far from being ready for production, however this thing is huge and even though they refer to it as ‘affordable’ they are not talking about consumer-level here. However you can probably expect to see this in VR arcades in the very near future.

 

4) Fully immersive headsets

The current gen of VR has a pronounced SDE and a rather small Field of View (FoV), this is slowly starting to change with technologies such as the upcoming Pimax 8K promising the end of the SDE and also boasting a significantly larger FoV. However I won’t be truly happy until I feel that I’m not even wearing a headset anymore, part of this goes beyond basic FOV and SDE improvements and involves things like Eye-tracking, headset weight and the most important of all; no wires.

Is it likely to happen soon?

Pimax has been making a lot of promises, unlike existing headsets, Pimax has apparently taken a modular approach to headset design, allowing owners to extend the capabilities of their device, their Kickstarter page includes things like wireless transmission and eye-tracking modules and there has even been mentions of a scent module!

Of course, we can’t know how good these modules (or even the headset) will be until they arrive. Personally, I’m taking it all with a pinch of salt as I can’t help but feel that Pimax is promising more than they can deliver. For now, I will pass you over to Linus Sebastian of Linus tech tips who has had the chance to try out a prototype version:

5) ‘Atomic’ rendering

At the moment, all video games use polygons to render their images, which has made sense for a long time as we did not have the computing power to build things out of atoms the way that nature does it. However, this is the technology we will need to have in the future to be able to create high-definition worlds that will feel truly real to us as polygons just won’t cut it when you can put your eyes a few millimetres away from the object.

Is it likely to happen soon?

Possibly.

There is a company called ‘Euclideon’ who claim to have perfected atomic rendering through a technology they call ‘Unlimited Detail Technology’, however as of February 2018, there are no commercially available games or even tech-demos that utilise this technology.

If it is real then it is truly a game-changer for world-building as according to Euclideon, their rendering engine relies on hard drive space rather than processing power and even then, the hard drive space is not excessive. This could mean that even low-powered computers (or possibly even mobiles) can display tremendously high-resolution graphics, which means the end to VR machines needing to be powerful gaming rigs.

 


 

VR tech is progressing at a steady but still fairly slow rate, however, although I don’t think we will enter the Matrix any time soon, I’m still quietly confident that 5 years from now, we’ll look back at Gen 1 VR and laugh at how immersive we thought it was compared to what we have now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *