We’re still getting used to the immersive magic virtual reality offers, but a new experiment from Disney Research pushes the technology into another realm: interaction with real objects while in VR.
A demonstration of the experiment was revealed on Monday via video (below) that shows a VR headset wearer accurately catching a real ball thrown at him. However, the VR headset wearer can’t see the real ball. Instead he’s reacting to a virtual ball that is tracked to correspond to the real-world object.
The tracking was accomplished using the OptiTrack Flex 13 motion capture camera, which tracked the ball as well as the catcher’s hands and head at roughly 120 frames per second. Although it’s not readily apparent in the video, the hardware is an Oculus Rift headset and the team used Unity software to render the virtual environment.
“While small latencies exist in our system and objects such as the user’s hands are rendered abstractly, our system allows users to be quite adept at catching balls while in VR,” reads Disney Research’s paper [PDF] that lays out the details of the proof of concept. “Thus, combining virtual and physical dynamic interactions to enrich virtual reality experiences is feasible.”
This kind of experimentation using real objects in combination with VR is on the rise, most recently with the emergence of HTC Vive trackers, which can be affixed to real world objects.
Although Disney Research doesn’t speculate on what else might be possible using this method, it’s not hard to imagine future VR team games, interactive presentations and even educational applications that use real world objects.
Or, dare we dream, maybe even some Star Wars related mixed reality experiences in the future. Jedi training anyone?
And if you really want to go long on futurecasting, this may also be an early look at a real Star Trek holodeck, a fictional room that allows users to feel real impacts from virtual objects.
Whether we get there through haptic feedback suits, real world object tracking, or perhaps a combination of the two, Disney Research’s experiment is yet another indication that we’re just at the beginning of a number of exciting experiments in VR that may help it become, as many are predicting, the final computing platform.