- At the moment it would not be possible to experience a totally immersive
3D environment online because of bandwidth limitations. A mobile phone plugs
that gap to some extent, but today for a truly breathtaking digital underwater
trip we are looking at some pretty powerful computers and projectors.
TELEGRAPH - 8 JULY 2016
Science fiction predicted virtual reality headsets in the early 1950s, but it’s taken over half a century for the concept to to materialise in any convincing form. The dawn of VR is finally here but, as with a lot of new technology, most simply can’t afford it. Currently there are two major players competing in the VR headset industry: the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift and HTC's Vive. The former is a cheaper option (at £499), but lacks some of the features of the Vive. Unlike the Rift - which offers head-tracking only - the Vive (priced £689) actually places the player in an environment, allowing them to explore it by physically walking through a space - while this is a feature advantage, it also means you have to dedicate a room to the tech.
The technology has come a long way since 1995 when Nintendo’s early VR misfire, the Virtual Boy, launched, but many of the criticisms leveled at that ill-fated device still stand today: it’s too expensive, it’s tethered and it’s kind of antisocial. While technology has advanced sufficiently enough to transport us to a believable virtual environment, these barriers mean it will be a while before it becomes mainstream. There is a chance Sony’s cheaper headset, PlayStation VR, will have better luck cracking the mass market, but it is unlikely to have the same technical oomph as Rift or Vive.
It is these barriers that prompted Simon Adderley to create the recently opened Tension VR, the UK’s first virtual reality centre. Located in a disused church in Lincoln, Lincolnshire, Tension VR aims to bring VR experiences to anyone who wants to try. Adderley says he chose Lincoln because he likes how the city - with its famous cathedral, cobbled streets and cutting-edge university - is a perfect blend of the old and the new, just like the building Tension VR is housed inside.
For Adderley, it all began five years ago when he went to Gamescom with his son and saw the Oculus Rift prototype launch in a tiny booth at the Cologne-based videogames conference. “I knew even at that stage that VR was going to be a complete game changer,” Adderley tells me. “I took that experience, watched the progression, saw where it was going - and I fully intended to have Oculus, but the Vive with its spatial awareness is just a different league altogether.
“I could see that it was something the world didn’t know it wanted until it arrived. I truly believe that there’s never been a period where something has been developed that is wanted by so many, yet afforded by so few. It’s not even just about the expense - for virtual reality you need space and so many people are living in spaces that are too small, whereas we’ve created perfect-sized rooms to do it.”
Upstairs, Tension VR is decked out with graphic walls teasing some of the VR experiences available, as well as some from non-VR games such as Overwatch. From the reception, a small corridor stretches out, lit up in blue neon, with each perfectly-sized room branching off. Each of these is manned by a member of staff who will load any games you want on, deal with any technical issues, talk you through the games and stop you from tripping over the headset’s trailing wire - another downside to room-scale VR at home.
The sampling of games I tried was impressive, with both more traditional titles and immersive experiences on offer. At one point I was at the bottom of the ocean on a downed ship, face-to-face with a giant blue whale. Another experience transported me inside a living Vincent Van Gogh painting that I could freely wander around, poking my head through a window and seeing a starry night in motion. I even ended up inside Van Gogh at one point, and how many people can claim that? The more traditional games saw me blocking coloured projectiles to the beat with Audioshield, downing sci-fi drones with dual pistols in Space Pirate Trainer and tackling minigames in Valve’s The Lab.
“One of the other reasons we’ve gone with the HTC Vive was because the hand controllers are such a natural extension of you,” Adderley explains. “You don’t need any technical knowledge at all - we are the technical knowledge. VR isn’t just about young gamers, VR is an experience for everyone. We had a gentleman who was a 65-year-old church-goer who didn’t even own a computer, didn’t know what it was all about. He put it on and within four minutes he got it and was whooping and hollering with excitement. It’s so rewarding.”
The team is looking at bringing these experiences to even more people in the future, with packages planned for school visits, as well as therapies for autistic children and stroke victims. The aim is to provide stimulation to the latter two groups and use VR as an educational tool in schools, taking 15 or so headsets along to lessons around the region. Tension VR is also planning to put something together to compliment universities, with the possibility of outsourcing facilities to those without the budget to set one up.
In the immediate future, there are plans to add in a green room so they can record players within the virtual environments, letting their friends watch them play in the 3D space and allowing the player to take home a DVD of their experience. Additionally, people will soon be able to 3D print their art creations made with Google’s Tilt Brush, a VR application for painting gorgeous 3D art with neon strokes.
By the time I left I was convinced that the Vive is an amazing experience, albeit one more suited to this kind of environment than in your own home. There were a couple of times when the controller stuck a wall, and the room host was always there to make sure I didn’t trip over the wire as I dodged around the room. I have a feeling the Vive could end up being far more expensive than the initial cost if used in your living room. With facilities like Tension VR, at least you can try it for yourself before putting down the hefty cost.
Tension VR is located at 53 Croft Street, Lincoln. Prices start at £40 per hour and this can be shared between up to four people.
WOODS INSTITUTE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT - OCT 2016
Stanford researchers release virtual reality simulation that transports users to
the ocean of the future. Free science education software, available to anyone with virtual reality gear, holds promise for spreading awareness and inspiring action on the pressing issue of ocean acidification.
Try to imagine what the world will look like if human-caused
carbon-dioxide emissions aren’t curbed. If your imagination and scientific knowledge can’t take you there, virtual reality can. The Stanford Ocean Acidification Experience, a free science education tool (download here), can take you to the bottom of the sea, then fast-forward to the end of the century, when many coral reefs are predicted to corrode in
waters made acidic by the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
“You’re not watching something, you’re doing it,” said communication Professor Jeremy Bailenson, whose Virtual Human Interaction Lab developed the software. “You learn by doing. These are magic, teachable moments.”
Although a dire threat to coral and other marine systems that provide food and employment for hundreds of millions of people, ocean acidification is not a well-known phenomenon.
Coral reefs are particularly vulnerable to acidification’s effects on the building of calcium carbonate skeletons and shells.
The virtual reality simulation allows users to stand in heavy traffic and follow carbon dioxide molecules from car tailpipes to the sea, where they are absorbed. Deep below the waves, you can move amid coral as it loses its vitality and observe the effects of increasingly acidic water on marine life. A narrator explains the processes unfolding before you and encourages you to interact by doing activities such as a species count. Hand controls with haptic feedback make the experience more immersive.
Bailenson and his team developed the software in collaboration with Stanford marine biologists Fiorenza Micheli and Kristy Kroeker (now at the University of
California, Santa Cruz), as well as educational technology pioneer Roy Pea, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education. Over the course of two years, they built a virtual replica of a rocky reef around the Italian island of Ischia. Underground volcanic vents have been spewing carbon dioxide at the reef, allowing researchers to measure the impact on marine life and extrapolate what effect people’s increasing fossil fuel use will have in decades to come.
Impacting real-world behavior
Bailenson’s research has consistently shown how putting people in virtual reality can impact behavior in the real world. After being put in a virtual reality simulation, people save more for retirement, exercise more, show more empathy and become more cognizant of their carbon footprint. A Stanford study published in August shows that an earlier, simpler version of the ocean acidification simulation caused a greater sense of empathy than a similar video-only experience. That’s because of something called embodied cognition, the effect of the body’s actions on the mind.
A related 360-degree video (best viewed with a smartphone) developed as part of a master’s degree project by former Bailenson lab member Cody Karutz has been viewed tens of thousands of times since being uploaded to YouTube and Facebook on Sept. 13. The video premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, where attendants could watch it through virtual reality headwear. “We had a line of dozens of people for 11 hours a day, six days straight,” said Bailenson, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
The potential is huge. Although virtual reality is still an emerging technology, hundreds of thousands of consumer sets have already sold. By 2018, that number is expected to grow to more than 170 million, according to industry consulting firm KZero. This coming holiday season is predicted to be a breakout time for sales of the technology. Among other related initiatives, Bailenson is in discussion with various technology and gaming companies to include the Stanford Ocean Acidification Experience in virtual reality-enabled programs. Bailenson hopes the software will become a model for virtual reality field trips.
Recently, Bailenson and his colleagues took the Stanford Ocean Acidification Experience to
D.C., where several lawmakers and dozens of staffers in Congress and the U.S. Agency for International Development tried it out. Among them: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon and former Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. “This simulation shows in rich detail the damage carbon pollution inflicts on our oceans,” Whitehouse said after the Capitol Hill event organized by nonprofit environmental advocacy group Ocean Conservancy. “I appreciate the Stanford Ocean Acidification Experience for calling attention to the peril our oceans face and what we must do to protect them.”
The Stanford Ocean Acidification Experience was developed with funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Stanford Woods Institute’s Environmental Venture Projects program.
By Rob Jordan
STANFORD WOODS CONTACTS:
Jeremy Bailenson, Communication: (650) 723-0701, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rob Jordan, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment: (650) 721-1881, email@example.com
- atented in 1962, cinematographer Morton Helig had started developing his Sensorama machine in 1955. The viewer sat on a chair in the cabinet-style booth machine to watch one of six short films Helig shot himself, complete with smell, breezy sensations and vibrations for all the senses.
1968 THE SWORD OF DAMOCLES -
In 1968, MIT professor Ivan Sutherland and student Bob Sproull created what was effectively the first head-mounted virtual and augmented reality headset.
It could only create simple wireframe graphics and the hardware was so large and heavy that it had to be suspended from the ceiling above the user’s head, hence its nickname The Sword of Damocles.
1962 SENSORAMA - Patented in 1962, cinematographer Morton Helig had started developing his Sensorama machine in 1955. The viewer sat on a chair in the cabinet-style booth machine to watch one of six short films Helig shot himself, complete with smell, breezy sensations and vibrations for all the senses.
- You can purchase 3D assets from various libraries online, but to improve the
asset from the basic rendering over a multi-element wire frame can cost quite
a bit more, especially if you want interaction built in to enhance the user
- Every year Android and iOS phones get smarter and faster with more
features and bucket loads of applications to help (or complicate) your life.
Some of the most popular smarties are: Huawei P9, HTC 10, iPhone 8, Lenovo Moto Z,
& CARDBOARD - A noted VR failure, Nintendo’s 3D Virtual Boy eyepiece promised to “totally immerse players into their own private universe”, and shipped with Mario Tennis. Unlike headsets, it was designed to be propped on a table like a tripod for the player to gaze through. Consumers were unconvinced, and it was pulled from sale the following year.
In 2014 Google revealed how Android smartphone owners could slot their handset into a lightweight cardboard holder and create a makeshift pair of VR goggles - appropriately named Google Cardboard.
Samsung has since followed in Google’s footsteps with the creation of Gear VR, its own plastic, head-mounted smartphone VR display unit.
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