The virtual reality (VR) headset, as any gamer will tell you, has undergone a myriad of transformations over the years, some clunky, some sleek, but all sharing the common themes of disorientation and motion sickness, known in this context as simulation sickness.
Simulation sickness is similar to motion sickness, except that your brain thinks you’re moving, while your body knows it’s sitting still. As technology journalist Lauren Orsini described it, “the eyes see motion but the inner ear feels nothing. It’s motion sickness in reverse,” and it was pretty much the expected adjunct to any VR adventure.
Not yet ready for consumers, the Oculus Rift, pioneered by the endlessly innovative folk at Facebook-owned Oculus VR, has a lot of people talking, not least because it appears to have conquered the simulation sickness problem by devising a way to keep the eyes from perceiving erratic motion.
Suddenly, the floodgates to the VR arena flew open. “The most important moment of my life in VR was when I saw this kind of quality experience. It was the time where I knew VR was finally going to work. Not just for me, but for everybody,” says Brendan Iribe, CEO of Oculus. “That switch flipped in the back of my head that said you really are there in this virtual space.”
A brand new industry… sort of
Iribe describes VR as a “brand new industry… we’re just at the beginning” while acknowledging that the technology itself has deep roots in past efforts. “What is the killer application for VR? Again, it’s too early to say. We just don’t know what that application’s going to be that most people are going to use. What game, or what real-time entertainment application… or is it going to be face-to-face communication?” he said.
“For me the real time when this is going to change the world is when we can have real-time face-to-face conversation,” he said, suggesting that virtual reality will become an alternative to traveling for meetings, as one example.
“Most people travel, and we get on airplanes and cars to go have face-to-face communications. If you could in the future throw on a pair of sunglasses and we could have that same conversation with people around the world… looking at each other’s eyes, looking in each other’s mouths… that’s really transformative,” said Iribe.
How does it work?
The Rift fits snugly over the user’s face, paired with headphones for a fully immersive, virtual environment that responds to head movements.
Kevin Ohannessian, a freelance writer who covers gaming and technology, explains how it works: “Picture a set of ski goggles in which a large cellphone screen replaces the glass. The screen displays two images side-by-side, one for each eye. A set of lenses is placed on top of the screen, focusing and reshaping the picture for each eye, and creating a stereoscopic 3D image. The goggles have embedded sensors that monitor the wearer’s head motions and adjust the image accordingly. The latest version of the Oculus Rift is bolstered by an external positional-tracking accessory, which helps track head movements more accurately. The result is the sensation that you are looking around a 3D world.”
In the Rift’s most recent iteration, the camera capturing movement sees an even larger volume, which means the imaginary boundary where the camera stops working is much bigger than before. Ohannessian exults that “this allows me to move around the virtual space, walking for several feet in any direction, as well as stretching low to the ground. This freedom of movement inside the digital world seen through the headset makes it feel like a real place.”
With the Oculus Rift, you can “stand inside a submarine, watch a velociraptor, examine an insect at a microscopic
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