By Jason Jerald, PhD
Over the past couple of months, I have had the pleasure of attending several conferences related to Virtual Reality. This article provides a review for three of those conferences. For a report on the IEEE VR and 3D User Interfaces Symposium held in late March / early April, see http://www.nextgeninteractions.com/ieee-virtual-reality-3d-user-interfaces. For a story of VR at the East Coast Game Conference, see http://www.gamersnexus.net/gg/1429-virtual-reality-gaming-usability-hurdles-ecgc
The Neurogaming conference is very exciting to me because although I have a basic understanding of neuroscience,it is not my specialty. As a result, there is plenty of room for me to learn and see new technologies.. This is the second year of the conference and the second time I attended. My big takeaway? I have a lot more to learn about Neuroscience!
NeuroGaming Organizer Zack Lynch asked me to return and moderate the VR Panel again this year. Palmer Luckey of Oculus also returned to the panel , and we were fortunate to have other VR pioneers participate, as well. Richard Marks, creator of the Playstation Move and a primary developer for the Sony Morpheous HMD, Amir Rubin, CEO of Sixense Entertainment, and Ana Maiques, CEO of Neuroelectrics, joined us this year. All the panelists had great insight about where VR is going. Ana in particular had some interesting perspectives as she comes from a neuroscience background. She showed an HMD device with EEG input and,most intriguing,electrical stimulation! Her device allows both input and output directly to and from the brain. It turns out there have been studies actually showing brain-to-brain communication using similar technologies. Of course, such devices don’t allow us to read minds in the way we read about in science fiction, but early developments certainly provide exciting potential of where the technology may be headed.
The Neurogaming Conference wasn’t all about VR but “The Immersive Experiences - Virtual Reality NeuroGaming” Panel was. Left to right:Jason Jerald—Cofounder of NextGen Interactions, Palmer Luckey—Cofounder of Oculus VR, Amir Rubin—CEO of Sixense Entertainment, Richard Marks—Director of the Sony Playstation Magic Lab, and Ana Maiques—CEO of Neuroelectrics.
Jason showing a CyberFace HMD courtesy of Paul Mlyniec of Digital ArtForms and Sixense Entertainment. This HMD is from 1989 and was used by VR Pioneer Jaron Lanier and his company VPL.
Karl Krantz did an incredible job of putting together one of the most amazing conferences I have ever attended—and he did it in only a couple of months! The overwhelming excitement of a new industry forming is like nothing I have ever experienced. Time after time, I heard about people quitting their day jobs to forge a new life and to pursue changing reality as we know it. The conference was filled with startups, many in their very early stages but with potential to offer substantial value in novel, new ways.
SVVR was held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. It is the location of the world’s first head-mounted display—the Sword of Damocles—created by Ivan Sutherland in 1968. After navigating the maze of technical history, I finally found the object of my quest. I was surprised the system was not bulkier.
Sixense was the primary sponsor of the conference. They are doing a really great job of positioning themselves as a leader in the VR Space. As would be expected, CEO Amir Rubin and Company were showing off their STEM system—five tracked points—along with the Oculus Rift.
I’ve been a big fan of CloudHead Games since I first met Denny Unger around the time they launched their Kickstarter over one year ago. The detailed artistic worlds Denny and his team are creating are extremely fascinating and compelling. Denny was experimenting with an interesting rotation scheme where instead of rotating oneself virtually via a smooth rotation, he ratchets rotations at discrete 10 degree intervals. Denny claims that reports of motion sickness are dramatically decreased using this technique. It, of course, doesn’t seem quite as real as smooth virtual rotations, but might be a great alternative to those that are more prone to simulator sickness. I assume this will be a user-controlled option for players to choose from depending on their susceptibility to simulator sickness.
I finally had the chance to try out the Sony Morpheus HMD (unfortunately I missed GDC this year), and, overall, I was quite impressed. The HMD quality wasn’t quite as good as the Oculus Crystal Cove, in my opinion, however the team was doing more to tackle a larger and more challenging problem—general VR consisting of standing/walking along with hand tracking. I very much look forward to the next iteration from Sony.
I was very happy to see Leap Motion showing a drastically improved system with skeletal tracking. The device has more consistent tracking even when the hands are partially occluded.
Laurent Scallie, former CEO of Atlantis Cyberspace (where he created an outstanding VR system) was especially excited about immersive film. I was a bit skeptical about immersing users in passive experiences, as I believed the best VR experiences would take complete advantage of fully interactive technology. However, I was open to being convinced otherwise. Laurent introduced me to Paul of felixandpaul.com, an individual quietly showing a demo beyond the regular exhibits near the lunch tables. I had passed Paul several times without giving it much thought having no idea what users were seeing. As it would turn out, the demo blew me away and is something that cannot be described with words. All I can say is that Paul changed my opinion of immersive film as it was literally as real as sitting with another person in a living room in almost every aspect. Because Paul’s demo was utilizing captured real-world data, it made me realize how far we will have to go in computer graphics before we are able to reach immersive photorealism. In the meantime, their technical solution as well as the artistic attention to details was flawless with no visible seams or holes. After my experience, I brought several people over to try the demo, and they were as impressed as I was.
There were two days of fascinating panels that consisted of many VR pioneers with various backgrounds, areas of expertise, and opinions. The panel that Karl Krantz asked me to moderate was about 3D User Input and Locomotion and consisted of Danny Woodall,Creative Director of Sixense Entertainment, Richard Marks of Sony Playstation Magic Lab, Jan Goetgeluk,CEO of Virtuix, Natha Burba,CEO of Survios, and David Holz,CTO and Cofounder of Leap Motion.[jj1] All the panelists had some great insight about what are some of the most important aspects that need solved to provide the most compelling experiences.
Ori Inbar and Tish Shute once again did a great job organizing the Augmented World Expo. I haven’t attended AWE in a couple of years so it was great to see the dramatic improvement of companies and demos.
Tish Shute and Helen Papagiannis on the AWE stage.
I had the pleasure of catching up with many colleagues and also met a slew of new people. They are undertaking and spoke about all sorts of interesting projects, so much so that I cannot write about all of them. Here is sample of just some of the talks:
David Smith Talked about Extreme AR and VR, in the sense of wide-field of view HMDs of up to 180 degrees per eye! David is Chief Innovation Officer at Lockheed Martin and has accomplished many things in his career, including creating the Colony—the first real-time 3D adventure shooter that is a precursor to today’s first person shooters, working with James Cameron on virtual sets and virtual cameras, and founding Red Storm Entertainment with Tom Clancy. David is not new to the VR space and there is no doubt that we will continue to see great things from him and I hope to see his AR and VR 180 degree field of view HMDs he showed a select few of us being commercialized soon.
Kevin Williams gave a talk about his area of expertise—Out of Home Entertainment. Kevin described how Out of Home Entertainment gives us the opportunity to develop for high end systems but also has its own challenges (e.g., ruggedizing HMDs). I have been looking forward to finally meeting Kevin and I must say Kevin is one of the most interesting personalities I have come across in the VR industry (and there are many interesting personalities!). Kevin is a former Disney Imagineer that helped DisneyQuest show VR to a lot of people back in the 1990s and is a leading expert for VR entertainment outside of the home.
I presented a talk about Interacting with Virtual Humans where I showed some of my own work as well as the work by some of my colleagues. My concluding point was that today we are selling the technology, but to appeal to the masses we must become really good at selling emotions and stories. I believe one of the best ways to do that is through virtual humans, whether controlled by a real human or a computer. The talk is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwJM_DSzz1c
One of the more exciting areas today is mixing augmented and virtual reality together and forming mixed reality. One such company that is doing this is Sulon Technologies. Mixed Reality can add textures, geometry, special effects, and characters onto the real world through video-see-through HMDs. Most impressive to me, is that Sulon was actually showing the system which, up until then, I assumed was largely an idea that would be difficult to implement. Although there remains work to be one, Sulon has a good start, and I look forward to seeing future demonstrations as they evolve.
Mark Billinghurst and his New Zealand HITLab team demonstrated the usage of integrating two video cameras with the Oculus Rift resulting in a nice mixed reality demo. I was also impressed with their interface where users could interact with 3D GUI elements and manipulate objects in some ways similar to Sixense’s MakeVR modeling system.