Virtual reality has a problem. It’s not a security issue, a cost overrun, or something better lenses, higher resolutions, or lower power consumption can fix. When you put on a VR headset, the real world disappears and can’t be “re-entered” until you take the headset off again. So long as VR is confined to fixed seating, this isn’t a huge issue, but it’s a challenge for any room-sized VR installation. So far, companies have dealt with it by projecting boundaries into the headset, but this only shows you the outlines of the space, not any objects within it. One company, Occipital, has developed a positional tracking unit that it believes can solve the VR environmental awareness problem.
Occipital has developed cameras and sensor arrays that can be mounted to headsets directly and used to measure the physical space around a VR user and communicate that information within the headset itself. Currently, VR solutions rely on external cameras for this feature. Inside-out tracking isn’t new, but Occipital wants to expand on the capability, deploying it with far more finesse than we’ve seen thus far. Its solution, according to CNET, creates a map of the space around the user and aids in obstacle-avoidance.
I’m going to be straight-up honest — I don’t see how that collection of lines coalesces into something someone can interpret and take action based on. It looks, to me, like someone sneezed while playing pick-up sticks. The reviewer, however, had a different take:
The VR hardware I tried had stereo cameras, but Occipital says the tracking will work with a single camera, too. It really does seem like ARKit/ARCore for VR.
Like a rough sketch, I could make out a table’s edge, a line and corner indicating another obstacle (a chair). I could see walls and corners. The outlines faded when I backed away, but gained definition when I was closer, like the room boundaries that slowly appear with most VR headsets. Here, however, the boundaries were being redrawn continuously.
I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt on this one, because it’s notoriously hard to capture how things look inside VR and transpose that information on a 2D screen. Occipital is hoping VR headset manufacturers will integrate its technology in future designs, giving users a window on the outside world without actually yanking them back all the way into reality — or leading to unintentional suicide-by-cat, when someone trips over a cat they didn’t know was there and puts their head through the television.