Virtual reality

19 jan 2018

written by: theodor spadeson
Virtual reality

Virtual reality is not just a catchword, it is an expanding technology that offers a great field for development and experiments. Once upon a time, the virtual reality as itself, was something beyond the understanding of an everyman. The idea of VR was widely used in literature and cinematography for years.

All the times people were tempted to escape from reality and to dive into the unknown world, where it is possible to solve any problem in a finger snap way - the whole world is under control! Great examples of the virtual worlds are reflected in numerous books and films. We would like to admit the most impressive examples in our article.

The first one is Wachowski's iconic trilogy “The Matrix”. Once the first film was released, it changed the society in understanding and perception of reality as itself, and bore the cult of “the matrix believers”.

For those, who couldn’t be bothered to watch a single film of the trilogy or live under a rock. The film dips into a world of an illusion created by smart machines to control the humanity while the machines consume the vital power produced by the bodies. An ordinary office worker Thomas Anderson, due to his hacker’s activity, appears trammeled (with the help of a red pill) into the standoff against the “Lords of the world”. In a short period of time, Thomas, also known as Neo, becomes a real destroyer of agents Smiths - the software, created by the machines and introduced into the matrix to control people activity.

Next to admit is the “The thirteenth floor”. It is an outstanding film that narrates a story about a virtual attraction created by a genius Hannon Fuller. The essence of the attraction is a faithful recreation of 1937 Los Angeles populated by people living clueless about the fact, that they are not real. Everyone (on a paid basis, of course) can “visit” this city and experience the life inside the program. All those deep pockets enjoy the attraction until the creator of the world, Mr. Fuller is murdered. No spoilers more - you have to watch this film.

“Source code” released in 2011 is a technothriller that tells us a story of Colter Stevens, Military Captain, stuck in the 8 minute moment of life, where he, in the body of a passenger of the ticking bomb train, has to find the bomb and the offender. Not gonna spoil the plot for those, who’ve missed this motion picture.

These examples of films, connected with the topic of virtual reality wowed the audience at the time of release. Of course, there are many more films and stories worth to be noted, but this article is dedicated to virtual reality not movies about VR.

Virtual reality is an aggregate of computer technologies which create real-life sound effects and images producing a fake but truly absorbing environment. The frequently used term while talking about VR, “Full immersion”, means that the immersed person loses the sense of the difference between the virtual and real worlds.

Full immersion

Full immersion into the virtual world is yet impossible due to the inability to transfer the full range of regular and important sensations as well as motions to that world. All we have today is partial immersion with restricted range of sensations simulated.

Let us look closer at VR and its essential components.

The first and the foremost component of the virtual world is the visual pattern, the starting point of the virtual journey. The more realistic and saturated the picture of the virtual world is, the smoother and faster the immersion is.

Even the greatest visual pattern will not create the feeling of immersion without sound effects. It is very important to create seamless and realistic sound effects amplifying the vividness of the visuals for spatial positioning of the immersed person.

Another crucial component of full immersion is tactile, or as it is also called - haptic feedback. Haptic feedback is a sophisticated technology that provides reception of tactile information through a sense of touch. Today, there are several haptic feedback variations in action conveying a sense of touch.

There are five main types of haptic feedback, which are force feedback, vibrotactile feedback, ultrasound, thermal feedback, and electric stimulation.

Force feedback is widely used in racing simulators to imitate the real physical pressure during impacts like collisions.

Vibrotactile feedback is the most widespread and most studied type of haptic feedback. The daddy among all of the examples is smartphone vibration. With the help of vibration, we are notified of a message or incoming call.

Ultrasound, conversely to vibration, is the least studied type of tactile feedback on the market. The essence of ultrasonic feedback is generating high-frequency sounds thus translating the shape and texture of the object.

It is not hard to guess what is thermal feedback about. Imagine being immersed in the North Pole. The visuals are stunningly realistic, you hear the howling wind and crisping snow under your feet. All fine and dandy, but you are standing in the middle of your warm room wearing a T-shirt and shorts. This is the case when thermal feedback means a lot. It gives a possibility to feel the temperature of the current virtual place you are in.

Perhaps, the precise method to convey senses is electric stimulation. Electric stimulation works through electric impulses of different frequency, intensity, and amplitude. Since it is almost impossible to convey chemical reaction in virtual reality, the best way to imitate separate senses like touch, physical impact on the body, and even rain via individual electric signals.

Problems of full immersion.

The main problem of full-vr-dive impossibility is lack of insight on almost everything regarding the phenomenon of human consciousness, the senses, and their relationship to the processes in the human brain and nervous system.

We only have ideas and considerations of how a lot of individual processes work and where they’re located, but very little clue how to replicate them convincingly. Nowadays only 2 senses are simulated in virtual reality in a greater or lesser degree - sight and hearing.

How close VR

The two important essential human senses are smell and taste. These senses refer to the experiences that are hardly possible to be conveyed in virtual reality. Though tastes and smells can be somewhat transmitted via electrical impulses, it is really hard to create a full range of aromas and tastes with all transitional conditions and imitate them all precisely.

Another big problem is hindering wires. Due to the vast volume of data exchanged between the VR headset and PC/console, there is a need for numerous wires. You must admit that wires constrict movements, and to feel yourself at ease while conquering virtual reality those wires must be removed.

For the complete and full-featured interaction with VR world, there is a need in controllers providing an ability to touch, turn, take objects and feel their physical attributes - weight, texture, temperature, etc.

Last, but not least problem is walking. Today the only way to move to VR games and apps is teleportation - through pressing the corresponding button on a controller you shift from place to place. When it comes to full immersion, teleportation is unacceptable. It is important to imitate real physical walking.

Therefore, a need in room arises, and the bigger the virtual world is, the bigger room is needed. Even such innovative approach like a treadmill cannot solve the problem completely.

Are we close to full immersion or what?

Today, VR technology allows creating entertaining mobile applications and computer games with almost realistic graphics that suck people into an interesting yet limited journey.

An interesting and breathtaking startup arose in Belorussia and its name is TeslaSuit. TeslaSuit enthusiasts are creating a full-body VR suit that provides a user with an extended range of sensations including the motion capturing and positioning system, haptic and thermal feedbacks.

How close VR

This breakthrough invention in the world of virtual reality consists of a belt, control module, pants, vest, and gloves. The uniqueness of TeslaSuit is that it is compatible with all known VR helmets, consoles, PCs, and smartphones.

The base of the suit is the T-Belt. It tracks the data of muscle movements, stimulates them, sends audio frequency waves and provides thermal changes in real time (20 - 40 °C). The microelectric impulses transfer the sensations with the help of the wireless gloves T-Glove, and that means that the gamer can feel the impacts on the game character like gunshots etc. Upon a collision of the virtual character and the digital object, the gamer’s body receives a signal to the point corresponding to the particular place of the character that was impacted. This process is ensured by the impulses sent from the device to the electrodes located on the specified part of the body.

Among the functional features and conveniences of the suit are customizable avatars (character skins), multiplayer gaming availability, streaming service, and last, but not least - the suit is washable :).

TeslaSuit startup has won popular affections worldwide since the very beginning, and the majority of the interested people are game developers. This fact is not surprising because the game industry tends to shift the gaming entertainment to a new level.

Such invention like TeslaSuit promises the full immersion just around the corner, but objectively, this corner is far at the moment.

To recall, one of the Elon Musk’s obsessions is neuro lace providing a symbiosis of a human being and artificial intelligence. This means, that the virtual reality, as well as augmented reality, will really make a rapid shift forward.

We are close to the new world of technologies and realities, but how close are we? Share your thoughts and insights on this topic!