Virtual Reality: There’s More Than Meets the Eye

Intro to virtual reality and its recent innovations

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

For years, the virtual reality (VR) industry has been creating excitement about the innovations and applications it has in various industries. Around the world, VR has been used for gaming, healthcare, education, and much more. VR can revolutionize the way we learn, interact, and in many other ways. The possibilities are endless!

Components of VR — The Basics:

Virtual reality is all about creating a world where the user can immerse themself in it. When people think about VR, the first thing that comes to mind is the headset. Today, VR headsets like the Oculus Quest and HTC Vive are known as head-mounted displays. As the name implies, it is mounted onto your head. So wherever you move your head, the screen follows you.

The headset and controllers are just a small part of the immersive experience VR is able to create. The experience is only possible thanks to the motion tracking sensors, optical tracking sensors, and binaural audio system.

Tracking our Body Movement

Six-degrees-of-freedom (6DOF)

Take a look at the picture above. There are two ways an object can interact with the 3D space, but we’ll be focusing on one, six-degrees-of-freedom (6DOF). Headsets like the Oculus Quest uses 6DOF. Any tracking system that provides a 6DOF motion tracking experience needs to measure movement in all degrees. An example of this is magnetic tracking.

Electromagnetic Tracking

This method utilizes the small electrified coils and electromagnetic sensors on the system and takes advantage of their magnetic fields. Each coil acts as an electromagnetic. The sensor then measures each coil and how its magnetic field affects the other coils. Based on the distance, the measurement determines the user’s position in all directions. Furthermore, the magnetic field allows the system to determine the user’s orientation. For example, if the controller is rotated, the system can measure the angle it is being rotated. The only downside to this method is that any object that generates its own magnetic field can easily interfere with the system.

Tracking our Vision

There are various methods when it comes to optical tracking, but the one thing they all have in common is their use of cameras when gathering positional information.

Tracking with markers

Specific patterns of markers are placed on an object in this method. One or more cameras search for the markers. Using algorithms, the system determines the position of the object from the markers. Based on the difference between the camera and the marker pattern, another algorithm calculates the position and orientation of the object.

There are two types of markers: passive and active. Passive markers reflect infrared light (IR) towards their light source. On the other hand, active markers flash IR periodically while the cameras detect the light.

The number, arrangement, and location of markers are chosen with the idea of providing the system with as much data as possible so the algorithms aren’t missing any data to perform their calculations.

Oculus Touch

Another component of VR is the controllers. The most recent VR controllers are the Oculus Touch which is compatible with the Oculus Quest 2. It consists of three buttons, two triggers, and an analog stick. The controller is shaped like a ring that contains a set of infrared LEDs. This enables the Constellation tracking system to follow the user’s motions in 3D space.

Oculus Rift positional tracking

The Oculus Rift’s tracking is unique compared to other VR headsets. The system is called Constellation which uses an IR-LED array (a device that emits infrared light) that is tracked by a camera.

With this system, the user’s movement is restricted to the area that’s seen by the camera. With the LEDs out of the camera’s sight, the software relies on data being sent from the headset’s IMU sensors.

Binaural Audio

Did you know that our reaction time to audio cues is much quicker than our reaction time to visual cues? There is more to VR than what meets the eye. To make VR convincing, it also implements your sense of hearing and really tunes in to your self of space in an attempt to imitate a real-life experience.

Binaural recording systems try to imitate how you would hear in real life. It tricks your brain into thinking there is sound coming from all corners of the room. When combined with graphics, it makes it seem as if you are actually there. Try it out yourself here!

Wear a pair of headphones to fully experience binaural audio. Image was taken from The Verge

While audio can be easily implemented into VR, there is active research and development to imitate other senses. For example, our sense of touch. Haptic technologies are advancing and in the future, we might be able to feel real-life sensations in a 3D environment!

Quick Recap:

  1. VR headsets like the Oculus Quest and HTC Vive are known as head-mounted displays.
  2. Six-degrees-of-freedom (6DOF) is a way an object can interact with the 3D space.
  3. Electromagnetic Tracking uses electrified coils, electromagnetic sensors, and their magnetic field to determine position and orientation.
  4. There are two types of markers: passive and active.
  5. Cameras scan for markers and use algorithms to determine position and orientation of the object.
  6. Markers are carefully chosen and placed with the intent of collecting as much data as possible.
  7. The Constellation system uses an IR-LED array. Any space outside of the camera’s sight is determined through data collected by IMU sensors.
  8. Binaural audio imitates how we hear in real life. It sends audio through various directions.
  9. With haptics technology, it will be possible to physically interact with objects in 3D space.

Stay tuned for Part 2 — Neuroreality!

Angelina Lim is a 17-year-old TKS Innovator in Vancouver, BC interested in emerging technologies and their creative solutions with a passion for virtual reality! Connect with her on LinkedIn and subscribe to her newsletter here.

An enthusiastic learner with a strong interest in BCI and VR.