Riding the sandworm

Since experiencing the Valve demo (and comparing notes with colleagues who had a similar reaction), I’ve found myself being a lot more inventive. Reaching that last one percent toward a sense of “this is real” has clearly convinced me, on some deep subliminal level, that this is something worth devoting brain cells to.

I have found myself coming up with new thoughts on visual languages for communicating in a shared virtual world, ideas for how to wander freely around a large open outdoor space while experiencing VR, for how to use detection of weight shift and changes in walk to make things happen in the virtual world, and lots more.

Let’s take just that last one. Wherever you go in a walk-around VR, you’re still standing on the ground. This limits what you can do convincingly. For example, taking off into the air like Superman might be problematic, because you can still clearly feel your feet on the ground, supporting your weight.

However, flying through the air like the Silver Surfer might be just fine, since you are supposed to be standing on something. Similar arguments can be made for riding on the back of a dragon in Pandora or a giant sandworm on Arrakis.

But then it becomes important to detect subtle shifts of weight. And you want to have that experience even if you were walking around before you took flight, which means that solutions that require you to stand still, like the Wii Fit, are inadequate.

Since I now know that it’s going to matter, I’m having a splendid time working out technological solutions that will be up to the job. I am looking forward to riding that sandworm.

3 Responses to “Riding the sandworm”

  1. J. Peterson says:

    My favorite VR hack from SIGGRAPH many years ago: A set of four large moving tiles, maybe two or three across, lined up in a row. As you walk over the row of floor tiles, they roll backwards, so you remain in place. As you walk, the last floor tile in the line scurries to the front, so it’s ready for your foot as you step on it. Depending on the path you see in the goggles, the tile drives to the right spot so it’s ready for your step.

  2. J. Peterson says:

    Google keyword: Circulafloor

  3. admin says:

    Yes, I remember it fondly. That was the first time anybody actually managed to implement that technique, although I also remember having discussions with colleagues about that approach going back at least to 1997, in response to seeing the omnidirectional treadmill paper at UIST in Banff. It’s very impressive work.

    Unfortunately, the actual experience is not ideal. The slow “restorative” movement that brings you back to the center of the room tends to throw off your balance, which is particularly bad when you are wearing a VR headset.

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