Wednesday, May 19, 2010

what happened to VIRTUAL REALITY??

Virtual reality was big in the early 90's. The glasses had very low resolution (320x200 at BEST), the equipment was heavy, the tracking wasn't very good, the graphics were horrible, and it was very restrictive (not only were you in a very small cage, but you had a wire yanking a belt attached to the game). At a pricetag of $60,000, it's no wonder why it was expensive, rare, and didn't last very long.

Here's what it looked like:

Why do I bring this up? Well because that technology is 20 years old, and dammit as archaic as it was, it had lots of potential! Sure we have stuff like Second life now, but it's still not immersive. Nintendo wii attempts to solve this, but I still find that the tracking isn't very good, and just swinging your arm to control a very bad looking avatar doesn't scream virtual reality to me.

So where are we at 20 years later? well we certainly aren't in a lawnmowerman world

However, I believe we can be. Now I'm not proposing every household invest in some elaborate heavy and expensive gyroscope with wired bodysuits, but we don't have to. I remember watching MIT videos where they had this complicated wireless tracking system for VR systems, which were very expensive and limiting.

If you look at today, for instance the wii, it's effectively taking an accelerometer chip:

And then using an infared LED
and a tracker that measures how far away it is.

The Sony motion controller IS in fact a better more accurate controller because it doesn't rely on you pointing the controller at a bar, it's using a lighted ball and a camera to measure size to determine distance. That means no matter how you hold the controller (with the exception of hiding it behind your back), it always knows distance.

Let's also take a look at the capabilities of the playstation 3 engine. Take a very detailed game like heavy rain. You can tell why it took them so long to create this game, the graphic detail and interactivity is amazing:

So what I'm proposing Sony does is take a game like heavy rain (except make a game that's all about dress up, I don't care what you call it.. Call it "mall shopping" for all I care). And all it would be is you standing in front of your TV, which would actually be a mirror showing your own body (using a camera, it could do a quick scan of your body shape and try to match a pre-existing body model. It could also snap a photo of your current body and texture map that to th emodel). So now your staring back at a virtual avatar of yourself, and woah! All of the sudden the avatar changed into a woman, and your clothes changed. As you move, so does the reflection in the mirror. Your experiencing the digital version of a Transgender story.

Now keep in mind, for this to work it would need to have quite a bit of tracking. I'm going to guess at the minimum, you would need an accelerometer for each joint (2 for arms, 2 for legs, and one on top of your head to detect rotation of your head).

You wouldn't be able to articulate individual fingers at this point, but perhaps this could be solved by something simpler and less expensive than an accelerometer (I'm picturing sliding wires built into gloves, and as you curl each finger, it moves these wires, and the distance moved is detecting by an infared LED that measures movement much like a cheap laser mouse).

I want my VR like johnny pneumonic! Why are we not there yet?

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