Consumer virtual reality technology is advancing by leaps and bounds. However, efforts have been primarily focused on viewing the virtual world. To be truly immersed, people must be free to explore and interact with the environment unfettered. Unfortunately, the products that are available for home use are noticeably limited in sensation and reachable space, while those that can offer immersion are necessarily restricted to commercial spaces due to size and cost. Our team of CMU Robotics students are leveraging our expertise in areas including system design, control theory, perception and planning, and bio-mechanics to solve this problem. By allowing people to walk indefinitely in a virtual world from the confines of their living room, and integrating this technology with the state of the art in visual feedback and hand controls, our system will provide a truly unparalleled immersive experience from the comfort of your own home.
Bob is a graduate student in the Robotic Systems Development program at Carnegie Mellon University. On Friday, Bob gets back home from a nastily exhausting day at college. He wants to kick back with his favourite video game, Portal. He is particularly excited about playing it today because his order of Stepping Stones from Morpheus, Inc. arrived earlier in the day, and he can’t wait to try it out. He brings the package to his living room, where he has his PC and his virtual reality head-mounted gear already set up.
He opens the package and finds a number of items inside. On top, he finds the user manual with the bill of materials included in the box, and reads it. He then begins to extract the items from the box, one at a time. He first removes a folded mat, which he unfolds and lays down on the ground. He then finds a set of motored roller skates that he can comfortably lift out of the box, plugs them into a wall socket, and places them on the mat. Next, he takes out a room-scale sensor that he places on his TV unit on the side of the mat and plugs it into his PC, followed by the user wearable(s) which he dons. He then fishes out a pair of hand-controllers, which he keeps aside on the cabinet beside his PC. As he gets to the bottom, he discovers a charging dock for the batteries on the hand-controllers, which he puts aside in a corner of the room to use later after his gaming session.
Next, Bob inserts the software DVD that is included with the user manual into his PC and runs the Stepping Stones software application installer. On successful installation of the application, he launches Portal and sets it to the ‘immersive gaming’ mode in the settings. He then slips into the adjustable skates, puts on his head-mounted gear, and picks up his hand-controllers. He is now completely immersed in the virtual world of Portal.
The motored skates seamlessly re-centre him within the mat’s area with integrated feedback from the room-scale and on-board sensors, while simultaneously emulating a virtual ground, as he moves around and explores his game world. His hand gestures and forces are tracked collaboratively by the hand-controllers and aid him in his interaction with objects in the virtual world.
While Bob is thoroughly immersed in his gaming experience, his mother is enjoying a book on a couch in the same room. Although they are barely a few feet away, the gaming system functions quietly and keeps Bob within the confined space of the mat. It ensures that the immediate surroundings are unaffected when the system is in use, and after.
On completing a satisfying session of Portal, Bob slips the motored skated off and stows them away in his cupboard, where it comfortably fits thanks to its compactness. He plugs the hand-controllers into the charging dock. He rolls up the mat and puts it aside. He doesn’t worry about tidying up because the system is clean in its operation. He can leave the hand-controllers connected to the charging dock until the next time he wants to use them, so they don’t clutter up the living room.
Now Bob is happy, because he had a truly immersive gaming experience with a completely natural feel during gameplay, while moving around in a small area in his living room. He is now relaxed and ready to go to bed, so he can wake up early next morning to start working on his endless list of assignments.