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Sebastian Scholl

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Sebastian Scholl

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I live alone in a one bedroom apartment. It’s cozy. As anyone would guess, my bed is in the bedroom. Why wouldn’t in be? Well, I’ve been thinking of changing things up – and not for any new found feng shui.

To me, switching it up would mean transforming my bedroom into a virtual reality room. Executing on that idea – as I want to see it – would require an HTC Vive and cost around $2,200 – $2,500. It may sound silly, though it’s little different than having a TV den in the basement. All that’s changed is the entertainment medium. Now, you may know that the HTC Vive only costs $800. So where is the extra cost coming from?

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Most people don’t realize that today’s high-end virtual reality headsets are not stand alone units. What I mean by that is they don’t come ready to use. In order to use an HTC Vive or Oculus (today’s two leading headsets) a customer is also required to buy a completely separate gaming computer. The cheapest entry ticket for one of those is around $800, ones worth their weight begin right at $1,200, and it’s easy to spend up to $5,000 if you have funny money lying around.

Unless you’re a die hard early adopter of new tech, eating those costs and going through the hoops of setting it all up is downright impractical. It’s still impractical even as a die hard early adopter. We all have our own tolerance when justifying indulgences. However, it’s very difficult to imagine anyone purchasing these VR rigs unless they at least fit these three criteria.

  1. Early adopter of new tech
  2. Passionate gamer
  3. Rich

This is sad. For me, at least. As a believer in VR, AR, and MR, I really see this technology changing the way we live for the better. Everything, from the way we work, shop, research, learn and stay in touch can be transformed into more interactive and humanistic experiences. A huge hurdle in actualizing that reality is getting capable hardware and software into peoples hands. At this point, we’re not there yet.

Two products came to my attention in the last week that I’m really excited about. They are examples of hardware that will enable mass adoption. How so? By bringing advanced computer vision hardware to mobile devices. While your current smartphone is a remarkable computer, it is blind – taking no context from it’s environment. Computer vision changes that, enabling a device to map the world in-front of it. And from that, exciting opportunities become possible.

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Utilizing the Structure Core sensor from Structure.io, Occipital has created a development kit that enables room-scale motion tracking on iOS and Android smartphones. The kit uses a first generation Homido headset with a 3D printed case for the iPhone that properly positions the sensor and wide angle lens. However, nothing is stopping people from printing their own custom case for any other iOS or Android device. This is cool stuff! Though you may be asking yourself, how does this solve a problem currently facing VR or MR?

Remember how I’ve been planning on turning my room into a VR haven? Well, in doing so I’d be installing motion tracking sensors on either side of the room for one simple reason. So I could move. There are many virtual reality apps you can download on your phone today and use with a inexpensive headset. But for the most part, you’re stuck. While you’re phones gyroscope can track your head movements, it can’t track which way you’re feet are taking you. This greatly limits what is currently possible on mobile VR applications.

With Occipital’s dev kit, a mobile VR app is able to take a scan of the world in front of it. It will then know that a table is 1-meter away on the right, and a wall 2-meters ahead. So then when a user takes a step forward, two things become possible. First, the app can update the users position in the virtual environment by knowing that now the same table is 0.5-meters away and wall 1.5-meters. Second, just because the table is there, doesn’t mean the user sees it. Remember, these are virtual worlds, and the user could be anywhere. And when that is the case, the app could warn the user that there is a real world obstacle obstructing their path. These two capabilities open up the possibility of creating infinitely explorable virtual worlds, since there becomes no need to have contained boundaries for context or safety.

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The second product is the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro coming out this Fall. It’s a gorgeous smart phone from Lenovo that has incorporated Google Tango’s camera sensor, making it one of the first market ready smart phones utilizing this technology. If you think Snapchat image tracking is cool, the apps that this phone could enable would blow your mind.

Within the next 2 to 3 years, every cell phone will likely include these sensors. If you understand how sonar works, these sensors work very similarly, but using lasers. They pulse out a scattered beam and calculate the reflection rate to map out the environment. And by doing so many times per second, it can compute an understanding of the environment and allow virtual entities to interact with that mesh. Check out their promo video to get a better idea of what’s possible.

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjlPbqgBSuc%5B/embedyt%5D

Looking at this phone, you may wonder why you need the Occipital dev kit. It’s a good question, because both sensors perform the same function. The answer to that question is timing. This Lenovo phone is a phone of the future – an early adopter phone. The Occipital dev kit enables developers to now begin building VR, AR, and MR applications for that future, when phones with motion tracking sensors become standard.

There will likely always be a market for high-end VR headsets thanks to gaming and specific industrial training simulations – NASA, Marines, and others. From a consumer standpoint, the faster this technology can reach a compelling level on mobile the faster it will find widespread adoption.

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