Augmented and virtual reality are about being able to have an immersive experience. This means that the viewer gets much more than offered by a 3D movie or even a presentation in a 4D theater. Instead of being a passive viewer of content, a VR user has the opportunity to interact with the objects in this virtual environment. Once you don the headset, which gives you vision inside of the the virtual world, the next step is to provide information back to the computer that will allow it to cause the imaginary objects in your environment to react to your manipulation. Reach out and grab a VR apple from an imaginary tree, and information about your movement and the correlating movement of the apple has to be transmitted to the program generating the environment, otherwise your fingers simply slide through thin air and you invariably find yourself in argumented reality asking for your money back.
The magic of how that happens, and what makes this type of environment so exciting, isn’t actually as fantastical as one might be led to believe by the experience. And one mechanism for making it work, developed by researchers at North Carolina State University, may be making it even easier. Their creation, known as the Captive Input System, is a 3D printed cube, each corner of which is connected with a brightly colored ball. Each of these spheres has its own color and is designed to be picked up by a camera enabled device using the team’s custom software. The relationship of the points to each other provides information about where it is in space, and therefore impacts the image that is projected into the eyes of the viewer.
The result is a device that allows users to manipulate objects in 3D with a greatly reduced lag time, as described by Zeyuan Chen, PhD student and lead author on a paper written about the object:
“The primary advantage of Captive is that it is efficient. There are a number of tools on the market that can be used to manipulate 3D virtual objects, but Captive allows users to perform these tasks much more quickly. Basically, there’s no latency; no detectable lag time between what the user is doing and what they see on screen.”
Experiments conducted by the team found that the Captive device allowed users to rotate in space nearly twice as fast as is possible with other, currently existing technologies. This means that a user could smoothly examine a virtual 3D model of a heart as if they were turning the organ over in their own hands, something that we’ve seen to have positive implications for surgical interventions. Or it could be used for more frivolous pursuits such as immersive video games, where it could easily become a regular part of expected game control experience.
The simplicity of the design and the possibility for creating it with 3D printing puts it in a price range that is much more likely to fit within the average budget as well, creating a much broader audience than higher end AR devices. As Chen explained:
“There are no electronic components in the system that aren’t already on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop, and 3D printing the cube is not costly. That really leaves only the cost of our software.”
More technical information on the device is contained in a paper that the team will be presenting at the Graphics Interface conference to be held in Edmonton, Alberta later this month. As of yet, the price tag on the software is not available, so it’s hard to evaluate exactly how available this system will be to the average user, but the chances are that if it’s too high there will be a bevy of individuals willing to take up the charge to develop one that is even less expensive.
What do you think of this technology? Discuss in the 3D Printed Cube forum at 3DPB.com.[Source: North Carolina State University]