Category: Virtual Reality

Near-Field VR Wins Immersive Realities Contest at SIGGRAPH 2015



The MxR Lab has been hard at work creating a unique immersive experience entitled “Discovering Near-Field VR: Stop Motion with a Touch of Light-Fields and a Dash of Redirection,” which just won the Immersive Realities AR/VR Contest at SIGGRAPH 2015. The contest was held to showcase the best immersive reality applications with live demonstrations in the new VR Village venue.

“Discovering Near-Field VR” combined efforts across disciplines at USC with students from the School of Cinematic Arts and the Viterbi School of Engineering collaborating with researchers at the Institute for Creative Technologies to produce a unique piece that introduces the art of stop motion animation to the field of virtual reality. The goal was to create a surreal experience by developing virtual reality techniques that look unlike traditional game engine graphics and leverage the perceptual affordances of the near-field. Light field rendering and redirected walking techniques were leveraged to create an interactive full-body experience.

The Immersive Realities AR/VR contest had 48 submissions from all over the world. A total of ten pieces were demonstrated at the VR Village, with the contest winner selected between the top three finalists.

This effort brought together the contributions of numerous people across multiple disciplines. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to everyone that made “Discovering Near-Field VR” possible:

USC School of Cinematic Arts and Institute for Creative Technologies:
Mark Bolas

USC School of Cinematic Arts:
Vangelis Lympouridis
Fernando Rabelo
Christine Barron
Catalina Matamoros
Cristina Brous
Alicja Jasina
Yawen Zheng
Wasef El-Kharouf
Anshul Pendse
Lindsey Townley

USC Institute for Creative Technologies:
Thai Phan
Evan Suma
Andrew Jones
Paul Debevec
David M. Krum
Timofey Grechkin
David Nelson
Ryan Spicer
Rhys Yahata

USC Viterbi School of Engineering:
Ashok Kuruvilla
Shravani Chintalapudi
Joy D’Souza
Nathan Iskandar
Ashley Yu-Chih
Jin Zhang
Mahdi Azmandian

Philip Eberhart

Otherworld Interactive:
Mike Murdoch
Robyn Gray
Mitch Thompson

Phasespace Inc.
Tracy McSherry
Kan Anant

We would like to thank the US Army for funding research that made this work possible. Statements and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the position or the policy of the United States Government, and no official endorsement should be inferred.

DARPA to release software developed by Mixed Reality Lab

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is responsible for funding and developing blue sky advancements in technology and science for the US Department of Defense. These have included significant roles in developing GPS, the Internet, autonomous cars, integrated circuits, and hypersonic aircraft. DARPA has now made some of their software available for free through an Open Source Software Catalog:

ICT’s Mixed Reality Lab is proud to be represented in this catalog with software related to “Immersive Body Based Interactions”, a research project that seeks to understand and address the human computer interface challenges raised by Big Data. MxR team members David Krum and Thai Phan developed and contributed software for low cost tablet based virtual reality displays and innovative multi-touch software for accessing large databases.




Additional coverage:
Information Week

MxR Lab ORGANIZES TRIP TO MARS at SIGGRAPH with Virtual Viewing Party

Mark Bolas, Perry Hoberman and the team at the Mixed Reality Lab (MxR) at the Institute for Creative Technologies at USC brought attendees of SIGGRAPH to the red planet.  Well, at least they provided an immersive Virtual Reality based experience where people could traverse the surface of the Gale Crater, the site where the Curiosity Rover would land that very night. The price for this inter-planetary journey? A free app on your iPhone or Android and a low cost immersive viewer, the plans for which are free to download on the MxR Lab’s website.

“Technology has progressed so far in the past year, that it is truly possible to put VR into everyone’s hands.” Remarked Professor Bolas.

Using the FOV2GO (a smartphone and tablet based low-cost DIY VR viewer platform with stereoscopic software designed by Perry Hoberman, which won the ‘Best Demo’ at this year’s IEEE Virtual Reality Conference), lead designer Thai Phan optimized a detailed stereo model of the Mars’ Gale Crater courtesy of JPL-CalTech Multimedia and NASA/JPL-CalTech to provide an immersive 3D experience.

To celebrate Curiosity’s exploration of our neighboring planet the group hosted a “Virtual Viewing Party” on the opening night of SIGGRAPH, coordinated with a live broadcast of the event projected on two screens in the LA Convention Center screening room. The team provided an assortment of FOV2GO viewers, enabling people to navigate in and around the crater finding points of interest and unique facts provided by NASA.

The team can foresee virtually bringing you to other amazing places as well. Right now it’s FOV2GO to MARS, but eventually it could be FOV2GO to the MOON, or FOV2GO to the Indian Ocean or Paris, France or anywhere you can imagine.


SIGGRAPH 12 attendees experience the FOV2GO to MARS

The team included, project leaders Mark Bolas and Perry Hoberman producers David Nelson, David Krum, Peggy Weil and Nonny De La Pena, and lead designer Thai Phan.

USC Researchers Debut Smartphone 3-D Virtual Reality Viewer Made Out of Cardboard

We unveiled this at the IEEE Virtual Reality Conference, which was March 4-8, 2012 in Costa Mesa, California.

Click here for the full story.

Off The Shelf Virtual Reality Workshop

We are organizing a workshop at the 2012 Virtual Reality Conference on “Off The Shelf Virtual Reality” (OTSVR). The workshop is Sunday March 4, 2012. Register for the VR conference, RSVP to our workshop, and submit your paper or demo by February 20, 2012.

This workshop was inspired by Randy Pausch’s 1991 paper, “Virtual Reality on Five Dollars a Day” and numerous other developers and researchers who have tried to make virtual reality inexpensive and accessible. Smartphones, video games, and game controllers like the Wiimote and Kinect have brought many virtual reality technologies to consumer price points.

What can you build using these inexpensive commodity technologies? What virtual worlds can you take us to?

Keynote Remixed: What Happened to Virtual Reality

This is part of a series of blog posts discussing themes raised in Prof. Mark Bolas’ keynote at ISMAR 2011.

In the 1990’s, virtual reality was clearly the wave of the near future. We would all soon be jacking in, waving our fingers to travel through strange neon geometric worlds, and experiencing adventures in perfectly simulated faraway places or times.

Cinema and television fueled and was fueled by this virtual reality hype. Notable visions of this future included:

Sometime by the end of the 1990’s to mid-2000’s, this hype had largely collapsed. The news media covered VR less and less. In academia, many VR researchers and labs moved on to other topics.

What happened to VR? Where did it go?

Public interest in virtual reality waned for a number of reasons.

My first Ph.D. advisor, Prof. Larry Hodges used to comment that he was glad that the Internet and World Wide Web came along in the late 90’s. All the celebrities, reporters, and hype went there, leaving virtual reality researchers like him the time and space to get back to work. Folks like Timothy Leary were a prime example of this exodus. Leary, coming from advocating psychadelic drugs in the 60’s and 70’s, found virtual reality in the 90’s, but moved on to the web. So certainly, some of the hype and attention simply migrated to the Internet.

Another issue is that the hype surrounding virtual reality created impossible to fulfill promises. This is a common phenomenon, noted in the Gartner Hype Curve.

Hype Cycle Diagram drawn by Jeremy Kemp

The Gartner Hype Curve communicates that there are “technology triggers” that lead to new opportunities and possibilities. Early adopters, like researchers, are drawn to such new fertile ground. Creative people imagine the possibilities before all the caveats and issues are discovered and worked out. Reporters share how this might change the lives of everyday people. Entrepreneurs begin to promote the technology and create start-ups. This all leads to growing anticipation resulting in a climb to the “peak of inflated expectations.” This was VR in the 1990’s.

When issues like technology limitations, costs, and other issues begin to deflate those inflated expectations, there is a slide down to the “trough of disillusionment.” This is where public sentiment has been towards VR for the past several years.

I reflexively dislike hype that inflates expectations into irrational exuberance. Hype inevitably collapses and seems to leave a “bad taste in the mouth” for that technology. However, I should perhaps reconsider that dislike. As Mark points out, hype isn’t “wrong” or “bad.” His colleague at the USC Interactive Media Department, Anne Balsamo, notes that hype is the public trying to figure out a way to engage with a technology. I guess we were just imagining all the ways in which this technology might improve us, change us, or have meaning for us.

The public did find a way to engage with virtual reality. However, it wasn’t through virtual reality googles, gloves, and motion capture suits.

Games ate VR.

VR technologies were subsumed into games. Games are experiences that test us and reward us for perseverance, gaining skills, and figuring out how the game world works. Game developers figured out which pieces of VR technology were needed to create engaging experiences.

  • Beautifully detailed game worlds and the 3D graphics technology that realize them were born out of the graphic pipelines built in the early days of virtual reality and scientific visualization.
  • Experiments with networked virtual worlds paved the way for the vast numbers of game players in World of Warcraft, Eve Online, and Second Life.
  • Early motion capture and body tracking systems were boiled down to yield devices like the Nintendo Wiimote, the Sony Playstation Move, and the Microsoft Kinect.

Second Harvest

If we glance back again at the Gartner hype curve, we can see something beyond the “trough of disillusionment.” It is the “slope of enlightenment” that leads to a “plateau of productivity.”

Mark Bolas calls this the “Second Harvest.” All those positive and negative lessons of the last few decades will come together to bear new fruit. We can revisit many old ideas in virtual reality, and we can start to deliver on some old promises. Why? We now have new and better technologies and a more mature perspective. We have fast 3D graphics chipsets in all of our smartphone mobile devices. Our smartphones have bright and crisp high resolution displays, near ubiquitous wireless data networks, and global positioning systems. In fact, our lab has been revisiting head mounted displays and re-inventing them with smartphone technologies (see here and here).

Furthermore, societies around the world are far more comfortable with the idea of virtuality than they were back in the 1990’s. Most everyone can text, use the Internet, watch digital movies, play online games, and friend people on a social network. It is amazing to note both the existence and importance of 3D artists in our society today. These are people, often in the movie and game industries, who make entire careers out of creating 3D virtual objects and environments. They build things that will never properly exist (at least materially), but are enjoyed by millions of people. Sounds like our societies are more ready to engage with VR than they ever were.

It is time to dust off the old VR research portfolio and take virtual reality to the next step.