Virtual reality will soon be more realistic with a new technology that gives the illusion of infinite walking
Is the holodeck here? Scientists achieve infinite walking in virtual reality - science news technology

The fans of the Star Trek series are very familiar with the concept of the holodeck. It is a fictional device, that looks like an empty room, capable of projecting a very realistic virtual environment in which people move and act pretty much as in the real life. For example, they can take a hike in a reproduction of a beautiful natural setting without ever hitting the walls of the room. For the moment this is a science-fiction concept, but maybe not for long. Now, scientists have achieved the ability for infinite walking inside a virtual reality environment.

The Virtual Reality (VR) technology is a computer-based technology that creates a virtual environment with realistic sensations, images, and sounds. It ultimately aims to achieve the feeling of the physical presence of a user in a tridimensional, imaginary world. This technology has progressed greatly in the past few years. However, there are still some problems in the path of its progress. Scientists are struggling with these issues in order to improve the user’s virtual experience.

A team of computer scientists from Adobe, NVIDIA and Stony Brook University is currently collaborating to create on a computational framework that will provide the VR users with the perception of infinite movement in the virtual world, even if they are located in a small real space. This new and improved technology will enable the users to enjoy VR walking without any physical discomfort, including dizziness and shakiness.

Using eye saccades to obtain the illusion of infinite walking in VR

So, how does this work? To achieve the illusion of infinite walking, the researchers exploited a natural phenomenon of the human eye, called saccade. Saccades are sudden, quick movement of the eyes from one point of fixation to another, for example, while reading a line in a book or when scanning a room. They occur naturally, independent of our control, a few times per second. Interestingly, during a saccade, the brain ignores all visual input, so basically, for a very short time, we are blind to what happens in the environment.

The researchers realized they could use this to their own advantage. They developed a VR headset able to track the movements of the eyes and the head. The device detects the saccades and taking advantage of the temporary “blindness” it redirects the user in the virtual environment. Even more, when the simulation calls for more redirection, the VR set is programmed to induce an increase in the rate of that saccades! To do this, it creates points of strong contrast in the periphery of the visual field, in the VR world. This naturally increases the rate of saccades of the viewer, thus allowing the system to change the VR space in order to give the illusion of an infinite space.

"In VR, we can display vast universes; however, the physical spaces in our homes and offices are much smaller," says lead author of the work, Qi Sun, a PhD student at Stony Brook University and former research intern at Adobe Research and NVIDIA. "It's the nature of the human eye to scan a scene by moving rapidly between points of fixation. We realized that if we rotate the virtual camera just slightly during saccades, we can redirect a user's walking direction to simulate a larger walking space."

The team who authored the research, titled "Towards Virtual Reality Infinite Walking: Dynamic Saccade Redirection," will present their work at SIGGRAPH 2018, held 12-16 August in Vancouver, British Columbia. This is an annual scientific meeting showcasing the latest advances in computer graphics and interactive techniques.

Wath the video below to see the technology in action:

Presently, there are several other technologies that attempt to achieve infinite walking in a virtual reality world. However, the redirection capabilities are very limited. Sometimes they induce visual distortions in the scenes. Finally, present technologies are not able to avoid obstacles present in the real world, for example, a chair. The new method takes these real objects into account and dynamically redirects the user away from them.

The technology was tested with good results

In order to validate the new technology, the team of scientists tested it on participants that were immersed in a VR environment and asked to perform search and retrieve games. The participants reported that they were not aware of the system tracking their eye movements and redirecting them. Even though they were manipulated by the camera, they experienced a smooth and realistic movement, according to the researchers. Moreover, they were able to change position in the room without hitting walls or furniture, much like in the holodeck from Star Trek.

"Currently in VR, it is still difficult to deliver a completely natural walking experience to VR users," says Sun. "That is the primary motivation behind our work - to eliminate this constraint and enable fully immersive experiences in large virtual worlds."
This new impressive technology has immediate applications in VR games. However, as the technology evolves, many other applications could be imagined, for example in architecture, movie industry, and virtual reality entertainment.

Original article by ScienceBriefss Based on materials provided by SIGGRAPH

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