Towards a more immersive social VR future

Maurizio Pesce (2016) Flickr – Samsung’s Virtual Reality MWC 2016 Press Conference – Some rights reserved

Spacial Perception in VR

The oculus delivers a convincing feeling of existing within a virtual environment. A pair of virtual disembodied hands add to the perception of being within 3D space. With the dual multi-button controllers we can use our real hands and our head direction to explore information rich and visually rich landscapes. The limits to exploring environments as a seated entity changes how we experience things as a conscious being. 

Addressing Navigation Limitations

New York University Media Research Lab director Ken Perlin speaks about being couch-locked in VR and argues that “Much of our sense of reality has to do with proprioception”, which is an awareness of the movement and position of the body. 

Scientists can use inaccuracies in proprioception to create extra space where there is none and with a “redirected walking” technique Frank Steinicke of HCI at the University of Hamburg is pioneering where an expansive VR space can be mapped onto a single room. Alternatively there are a number of relatively expensive VR treadmills available addressing this shortfall.

Current Navigation Experience

I found the hand controller methods involved in moving through virtual space satisfying to explore and interact but for me they possessed an slight learning curve in each application I used. In particular the most intuitive gesture was the trigger-drag to pull spaces toward you in Google Earth. This app also had a satisfying bubble streetview perched on your right hand that you could pop it into your glasses.

Meanwhile flying through space within a zero gravity space station experience felt super clunky with the unclear and unsatisfying methods employed. The controls did seem to be a perfect evolution for the first person shooter game enthusiast with gun-like handle and trigger. They are also perfect for sculpting in 3D with tilt brush and similar apps.

Towards the Next Generation of Experiences

Commentators on the future of VR, and for that matter AR, talk about the integration of social aspects into the experience. Avatars of other people to interact with in the virtual space is high priority to avert social isolation tendencies of the technology and encourage collaborative play, exercise, work and learning.

HoloLens 2 delivers this experience for AR but with VR a lack of HQ untethered body tracking is requiring investment to become a reality and there is not currently a commercial market. Facebook is investing in VR for this social interaction future milestone, and others. Facebook has bought out Oculus research which is now called Facebook Reality Labs (FRL) since 2018. It is the largest VR research lab in the world which is working on haptic wristband controller, variable focus, body tracking and lightweight compact headsets.

We are heading towards novel forms of everyday social interactions paired with the power of immersive environments and HQ body tracking that will enrich the human experience bringing deeper understanding through novel ways of undertaking activities.

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