Tag Archives: motion-parallax

Eyesight & Oculus Rift

As an old[er] gamer with dodgy eyesight, I’ve been worried that I’d never be able to play VR [virtual reality] games. Well, yesterday I learned that I can. ๐Ÿ˜€

But first things first: what is Oculus Rift? Basically, it’s a very expensive piece of headgear that makes it possible to view imaginary things as if they were real. The model I tried out yesterday looks like this:

As well as the goggles and inbuilt headphones, the Oculus Rift comes with two handsets that transmit Wifi data to the two ‘receiver’ units positioned in front of the ‘player’.

All of this hardware is controlled by specialist software running on a fairly powerful pc. Without getting too technical, the software sends two, separate, high resolution images to the lens inside the headset. The appropriate image then bounces through one of the lens and into the left or right eye.

To get an idea of how this works, close one eye and look at an object. Close both eyes and move a few inches to the left. Now open the other eye and look at the object again. The object hasn’t changed at all, but the viewing angle has – i.e. you’re seeing a part of the object you haven’t seen before. Put the two images together, and you get a 3D image.

The human brain interprets these separate images all the time using a process called ‘stereopsis‘. But for some individuals, stereopsis doesn’t develop as it should. The brain still gets streams of images from both eyes, but these individuals see depth using a process called ‘motion parallax‘.

I am one of these individuals, and that’s why I worried I wouldn’t be able to see in VR. But I can! I can.ย My spatial awareness expanded right out, and when a bunch of very large robots suddenly turned feral and loomed over me, I instinctively threw my hands up to protect my head! I also squeaked in fear, but the less said about that the better. ๐Ÿ˜€

This is a video of a bunch of older people experiencing VR for the first time:

The headset shown in the video clip is the VIVE rather than the Oculus Rift, but the experience is much the same.

I wasn’t wearing glasses when I tried out the Rift, but apparently you can fit your normal glasses inside the goggles by adjusting the fit.

And now a word or two about the quality of the graphics. I wasn’t wearing any of my glasses [I have 3, one each for long, mid-range and close viewing] and that may have made the graphics less than optimal. Or it may be that the graphics still need to be improved. Or perhaps you simply need bleeding edge computer hardware to get the best results. Whatever the reason, I was in no danger of mistaking computer generated graphics for the real thing. But…the sensation of depth really does trick the brain into believing the images are real. One day, we may not be able to perceive the difference at all.

Finally, some unpleasant aspects of the hardware. For starters, the goggles are heavy. Whilst you’re ‘inside’, you tend to forget about the weight because there’s so much there to distract you, but it does feel a bit like carrying half a brick around on your head. It’s also hot. Yesterday was only warm, but after ten minutes playing with the Rift, my hair was wet with sweat.

A big part of the weight of the Rift comes from the glass lenses that make the magic possible. Given how young the technology is, I suspect the mechanics will be improved rapidly. One improvement I would very much like to see is in the handsets. Although they are far more intuitive than the controllers used with consoles, they’re still clunky. Gloves and a full-body suit with embedded sensors would be miles better.ย They’d also be miles more expensive, but hopefully the price will come down by the time I can afford to buy one. ๐Ÿ˜‰

All in all, I loved my taste of VR, and now that I know I can see despite the issues with my eyesight, I’m determined to own my own setup…one day.

cheers

Meeks


The birth of cybernetics?

Doctor Who fans will immediately recognize the concept of the ‘Cyberman’, but for everyone else, it’s a being that evolved from a biological base into a fusion of ‘meat + machine’.

In the Doctor Who series, the Cybermen are more machine than meat, but the concept stays the same. And it’s been a recurring theme in science fiction for decades. Anyone remember a TV show called the 64 Million Dollar Man?

But that’s all just make believe…isn’t it?

Well, no, no it’s not, not any more. Welcome to the world of David Eagleman. If you have any interest in what makes all life on earth tick, you will find this TED talk absolutely rivetting:

Did you watch it? Did it blow you away? Yeah, me too. ๐Ÿ˜€

There were a number of things in that talk that made me nod like crazy, but two really stood out:

  • the brain is a general purpose computing device, and
  • the concept of sensory substitution

As someone interested in biology, I sort of knew about the parts of the brain and how they functioned, but until quite recently, I assumed that brain plasticity [the ability of the brain to change itself when necessary] was restricted to fairly ‘small’ functions. And then I heard about Daniel Kish. He has no eyes, so everything you see him do, he does without using the physical pathways you or I use when we ‘see’ things. Instead, he makes clicking sounds and ‘hears’ them bounce off objects in their path:

Daniel Kish is an example of biological sensory substitution because he uses his hearing to provide data to the brain which the brain then interprets as a kind of vision. It’s real, it can be done, it’s just that most of the time, we humans prefer to use the easy path we learned as babies.

Just as a matter of interest, did you know that the visual cortex of a newborn baby is ‘unfinished’? Steropsis, or

The perception of depth produced by the reception in the brain of visual stimuli from both eyes in combination; binocular vision

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/stereopsis

is ‘learned’ in the first 18 months of a baby’s life. If something happens to disrupt this learning process, binocular vision will not develop. Instead, the child will learn how to see 3D using a process called ‘motion parallax’. I know, because that’s how I see, and I can play pretty fast and furious table tennis. ๐Ÿ˜€

The more I learn about the world, the more amazed I become at its incredible power. Is it any wonder I’m a sci-fi nut?

Special thanks to Museworthyman for pointing me towards that mind-blowing TED talk. Kindred spirits unite!

cheers

Meeks

 


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