INNOVATION | Reading Time 9 min

Step Right into Virtual Reality

Renato Caenaro, 2/1/2021

It's been a while since 2012 when a new startup founded by Palmer Luckey in California announces the imminent release of the OCULUS RIFT and ignites international interest in the world of virtual reality.

Palmer's credit wasn't inventing VR, we've all seen a lot of 80s-90s movies featuring fantastic helmets that promise immersive experiences; its merit is to have rekindled the interest (and therefore obtained huge funding) on ​​a technology parked after a series of technical and commercial failures, promising a viewer at an affordable cost (promise nullified by production costs) an involvement of the major player in the 3D market to ensure quantity of content.

The truth is that VR is not a new technology, it is just a very expensive and technologically complex thing to implement two factors that usually discourage the creation of products aimed at the consumer market.

What is new in my opinion is the "positional tracking" or the ability to calculate the position and movements of the viewer in the real physical environment and use them in the virtual environment to give us the real "immersive" experience.

This is thanks to the so-called Mobile VR systems which, although failing to compete with the quality of Oculus Rift of PS VR, begin to give us experiences free from feelings of nausea, opening new paths towards what we call 6DoF or six-degree-of-freedom.

HTC Vive's approach (the system that currently guarantees the best tracking with two wall sensors that detect the position of the headsets) doesn't have to be the only system, Oculus that has a similar system based on cameras recently showed to the public a prototype with inside-out technology.

You may have heard of inside-out and ouside-in technology before, but if you're like us, you may be asking yourself some of the following questions: What are the strengths and weaknesses of each of these two technologies? Which is better? Which one will we use in 10 years from now?

Outside-in

This is the technology used by Oculus, HTC VIVE and PS VR. This is when the position of your headset is tracked by external accessories. It is a system of sensors (or rooms) in a number greater than or equal to two that are positioned in fixed points of the room that triangulate the position of the viewer in relation to the surrounding environment.

PROS

  • Tracking accuracy: the sensors are fixed eliminating the need for compensation due to movement and it is also possible to increase the number to increase accuracy.
  • Latency: tracing occurs faster as the number of calculations to be performed are fewer, this guarantees a lower nausea effect.

CONS

  • Obstacles: any objects in the real environment can prevent the sensors from correctly observing your position as you must always be in the sensor's "field of view" and never behind, for example, a plant to be correctly detected, it is also that effect for which if we turn our backs on the sensor it "loses sight" (and this is why special markers have been inserted on the back of the viewers that allow the sensors to detect us anyway)
  • Field of view of the sensors: this is the obvious problem deriving from the fact that the sensors have a fixed field of view and as soon as we leave this they stop detecting us, this particular problem limits the virtual experience to the actual real space dedicated to our VR setup.

Inside-out

This technology provides that the cameras (in this case we are talking about real cameras) are mounted directly on the viewer and looking outwards determine the change of position (not the actual position) in relation to the surrounding environment. It is possible but not essential to place markers in the real environment to help the sensors, through the markers it is in fact possible to perform a triangulation on the basis of known points recognized in real time by the sensors, without these the sensors will use any framed object, or rather they will exploit the movement of the entire image (making the calculation more complex and more expensive in terms of hardware resources)

Speaking about commercial products available to the public between July and August, the first Acer inside-Out devices were made available on the developer market and HP called Mixed Reality HMD. Eonite instead proposes a sensor to be attached directly to the HTC Vive to make it independent of its positioning system. Surely the one who has invested the most with the best results at the moment is Microsoft which uses the inside-out technology in the HoloLens viewer.

PROS

  • Freedom: you are not bound to define a specific real space in which to move, mobility is certainly better and the virtual experience is beneficial!
  • Success: Augmented and Mixed reality will be the major "sponsors" as they require independence from fixed locations.

CONS

  • Accuracy and latency: Inside-out tracking technology requires excellent "computer vision", and as we know this technology is young and not it is still so developed and efficient that it can be compared to outside-in tracking technologies, but the distance is shrinking fast!
  • The calculation for the tracking: it must be performed by the viewer, this translates into very expensive devices such as the HoloLens or in hybrid solutions that involve the use of computers created in the shape of a backpack and therefore wearable.

So where are we going?

A perfect and accurate inside-out positioning is what we all imagine when talking about VR and that those who have already tried some of these solutions until now are waiting to finally have a feeling of "reality". On the other hand, who among us wants to be connected to a cable or take to a PC in a backpack format?

"I suspect we may see outside in continue to exist only in the high-end desktop PC part of the market (Vive) as the absolute best solution and will likely be the last to move towards inside out. I believe we may also see some new tracking solutions come out that could accelerate the move towards inside out, but those are yet to exist. Ultimately, technologies like VR and AR tend to gravitate towards integration for a multitude of reasons and there are plenty of reasons why integrated tracking is beneficial, especially in AR. Many of those reasons have to do with portability and power consumption, both of which are pain points for many VR solutions today without inside out tracking." is the opinion of Anshel Sag, a VR analyst at Moore Insights & Strategy.

Even if the inside-out technology is starting to collect its first successes, we are still far from seeing it applied to headsets such as Daydream VR and Samsung Gear VR. But let's give time to time, it seems in fact the only logical way to go for an effective “spatial tracking” especially for all those promises and requests of AR.

Back in 2014, John Carmack said about his first inside-out developments: "everyone is skeptical that it will work out, so don't hold your breath", after a few years maybe now it's time to start hold breath!

For any further insights or curiosity, don't hesitate to contact us!

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