The ultimate goal of virtual reality gaming is to convince players that they are actually the inhabitants of another world. A number of components are needed to make this a reality. While head mounted displays like the Oculus Rift bring us one step closer to feeling like we’re inside another world, there are yet more pieces to the puzzle; being able to naturally control the player-character — also referred to as body tracking or full avatar embodiment – within the game will be a massive jump in immersion compared to using the controllers of today’s video game consoles. A company called Yost Engineering Inc. (YEI) is now producing a set of low-cost high-precision wireless motion sensors which, when used in an array, can provide 1:1 body tracking in virtual reality games. YEI has cobbled together a prototype setup which combines the company’s sensors, Sony’s HMZ-T1 head mounted display, and Epic Games’ Unreal Engine to show off the true potential of body tracking in virtual reality games.
YEI showed off this impressive demo at the ION GNSS conference at the end of last month:
Body tracking is achieved quite well with the sensors alone. Add an HMD into the mix and now you’ve got a great demo of [a] first person virtual reality game.
The setup uses 17 of YEI’s 3-Space wireless sensors (technical details here). The sensors are mostly targeted toward motion-capture and other non-consumer applications, and while they are significantly cheaper than some other motion capture solutions (like PhaseSpace’s $80,000 systems) they still aren’t priced for a mainstream gaming market. The 17-sensor setup used above would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $4,000 for the sensors alone.
However, as components become ever cheaper, peripherals for full body tracking may be the future of virtual reality gaming.
This demo is particularly compelling because it uses the Unreal Engine which, along with the Unity engine, will have official support for the upcoming Oculus Rift HMD once the SDK launches. With a horizontal field of view twice that of the HMZ-T1 (and a vertical field of view even beyond that), the Rift would offer an even more immersive experience when combined with YEI’s setup.
Exploring the Past With Virtual Reality and Body Tracking
While virtual reality gaming is an extremely exciting synthesis of these technologies, there are plenty other possibilities for virtual reality. One of those possibilities is the ability to visit places of the past with historical significance. One place that I can’t wait to visit in VR is this amazing reconstruction of the Titanic (tipped to me by Michael Beyhs of Inreal Technologies):
Once an affordable full avatar embodiment system hits the mainstream market, game developers will be able to immerse players in richly detailed worlds and players will be able to experience incredibly immersive narratives. Such seamless virtual reality experiences may be just a few years away.