technolustNow this is my kind of game: a cyberpunk first-person adventure set in a dystopian future. Native Oculus Rift support. A NSFW TRON poster (though I bet they will take that out). This just looks too awesome for words. I backed the Kickstarter for $50 bucks, but I’m willing to up the ante later in the campaign if necessary. Really anyone with an Oculus Rift, or that plans to buy a Rift, should throw some money down on this project. Of all the things I’ve played in VR, I think this is my favorite. And I’ve played a LOT. Get on this.

cast_ar

Looks like the VR/AR crowd-funding freight-train is not slowing down one bit. The latest success story being castAR, a set of stereo 3D augmented reality glasses from ex-Valve engineers. At first I was not all that excited about the project, seeing as I am more of a VR buff than for AR. However, this project looks too interesting to pass up.

Basically the device is based around a set of active-shutter 3D glasses. The trick is that instead of looking at a monitor, there are dual 720P projectors mounted on the frames which project the images onto a surface. This surface happens to be a retro-reflective canvas, basically bouncing the images straight back to your eyes. Combined with head-tracking, the glasses can provide a realistic 3D sandbox in which to play in.

Even better, there will be AR/VR clip-ons that allow for a more traditional head-mounted experience. They claim the VR model will have a 90 degree field of view, which actually sounds pretty good (if maybe still a bit shy of the Rift). It all sounds very ambitious, but really amazing if they pull this off right. I’ve backed it.

 

The guys at Sixense have just released a new video showing off the 5 STEM motion-tracking system that they are Kickstarting. The Sixense version of the Oculus Tuscany demo was already one of the more impressive examples of VR I have seen, and that was just using the Razer Hydra. This new demo ups the ante with a total of 5 trackers, resulting in a convincing full-body simulation. I have already backed the Kickstarter and I suggest, if you haven’t already, that you do too. This technology looks way too awesome to pass up.

wizdishThere is now another omni-directional treadmill project on Kickstarter, this one called the Wizdish. It’s a passive design, similar to the Omni, however it does not allow the user to lift their feet. It works by wearing special shoes with low-friction tiles on the bottom. This allows you to slide your feet back-and-forth easily without the need to pick up your feet.

I actually got to try a prototype of this device, and it was certainly interesting. It did not blow me away, but seemed intriguing enough for me to want to get in on the Kickstarter. And this isn’t even that only other ODT coming out soon. There are at least two other projects in the works, this is turning into a highly competitive space. Looks like the Wizdish is still pretty far from it’s goal, with 28 days left, so jump in the Kickstarter now if you’re interested.

ARAIG

Looks like there’s yet another virtual reality project on Kickstarter. Well, I guess this is not strictly a VR thing, but it certainly could be used as such. Basically the ARAIG is a vest that you wear while gaming, and it provides force-feedback when you are getting hit in the game. While it does include vibration (like current controllers), it also has direct stimulation with TENS, which could get pretty intense depending on how much power they are pumping through. I really think a vest like this can add a lot of immersion, specifically in first-person shooters. I backed the project at the $299 level, and I suggest anyone interested in VR with some cash to spare do the same. The creators still have a long way to go to reach their $900,000 goal, but you never know.

 

The above video is demonstrating a 4.5″ flex sensor made by Spectra Symbol that I got from Sparkfun. Hooked it up to an Arduino and had it print the values to the serial monitor. Since I don’t have a tripod, it was going to be difficult to demo with only one hand, so I ended up taping the sensor to my finger. Ghetto? Yes. But it actually was pretty fun, and gets me psyched up to buy a glove to mount this on. So far it seems to work good enough for my needs.

Virtuix Omni

The Virtuix Omni Kickstarter campaign was fully funded within hours of the doors opening this morning. If you haven’t heard of this device before, it’s basically a passive treadmill. It allows you to walk in any direction inside a virtual world, without actually moving in the real world. At the time of writing, they are sitting on over $454,000 with 47 days left to go. An amazing achievement and testament to how popular virtual reality has become recently. I backed them for $399. Let’s hope they actually ship next January.

 

For quite some time I have been waiting for a good data-glove to hit the market for use with virtual reality applications. So far the only consumer product that has come remotely close was the P5 glove, which was probably one of the biggest disappointments in my life. Although better data-gloves have existed since the 90’s, they have been so expensive to only be attainable by large corporations or the government. So with nothing really available off-the-shelf, I have decided to build my own.

Virtual Reality cannot really be had using archaic input devices like the keyboard and the mouse. While fine for web-browsing, they just don’t cut it for immersive interactive 3D  experiences. Tracking hand and finger movements just seem like a very intuitive way to interact with a virtual world. Although there are devices, like the Razer Hydra, that capture some of these elements, it’s just not the VR I dreamed of as a kid if you don’t don the gloves.

Currently I am evaluating good orientation trackers (rather, an inertial measurement unit or IMU). I found the Pololu MinIMU-9 v2 and it seems to fit the bill. The price, at $40, is not too shabby either. It does not come with a USB interface or anything fancy like that, so I had to solder some connections myself and use an Arduino to interface with the PC. Even so, the package is not bad at all. As you can see in the video, the tracking is decent. Maybe not the best I have ever seen, but certainly workable. I’m pretty sure it’s giving better performance than the Hillcrest Labs unit I was previously using, but it’s hard to say just by looking at a quick demo. Anyway, I’m happy with my $40 dollars.

Next up I will be looking at flex sensors to track finger movement. These ones from Spectra Symbol look nice and were supposedly used in the Nintendo PowerGlove (which could be bad or good depending on how you look at it). Hopefully those sensors won’t be too hard to get running, as it would be very convenient to grab parts like these off the shelf. Especially if I want to post the instructions online so other people can build their own.

Finally I will need to construct a proper positional tracking system so physical movement will be mirrored in the simulation. I have a couple of ideas for this, though I still have a lot to experiment with. Stay tuned.

The Oculus Rift is great and all, but it still feels pretty constricting using VR sitting in a chair. The Virtuix Omni plans to change that. Commonly referred to as omni-directional treadmills, the Omni allows you to feel like you are walking, or even running, around a virtual space while in real-life you stay safely in the same spot. This project in particular is a passive device, with no moving parts, which means it could be provided for cheaper and in a smaller package than otherwise possible. The Kickstarter to slated to go live June 4th and I will, no doubt, be one of the first in line. Now all we need is cheap wireless data-gloves and I’ll be all set.