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Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality

Posted Thursday, April 30, 2015   |   1148 views   |   General Interest   |   Comments (0) Virtual Reality technology has been around for quite a while, however not to the standard it has recently been developed.

VR tech is used throughout various trades and with the recent announcement that VR tech will be available for home gaming, we thought we’d take a look at a couple different systems out there!

The term ‘virtual reality’ is definitely an ambiguous one with many people having different views on the term. Do you associate it with someone wearing a clunky helmet attached to a computer with a thick cable, waving their arms frantically, battling all kinds of poorly rendered enemies? Do you think of movies such as The Matrix, with Neo and Morpheus traipsing around a reality that isn’t their own? Are you a part of the Air Force and associate the term to all the simulator training you did before you stepped foot into a real jet? Or do you simply wish the term would vanish into thin air because it’s a misinformed term?

If you relate to the latter claim, then the chances are you’re some kind of super computer scientist or engineer, who spends a lot of their careers working with technologies most would dub VR. In today’s world you’re more likely to hear the words virtual environment used by these types.  Scientists, theorists and engineers have designed dozens of devices and applications to achieve this goal. Opinions differ on what exactly constitutes a true VR experience, but in general it should include:

• Three-dimensional images that appear to be life-sized from the perspective of the user.

• The ability to track a user’s motions, particularly his head and eye movements, and correspondingly adjust the images on the user’s display to reflect the change in perspective.

In today’s high tech world, most VR/VE systems are powered by normal PCs, with PCs being sophisticated enough to develop as well as run the software needed to create the virtual environments. Most VR/VE systems will use HMDs, which are large headsets which include two monitors; one for each eye. However, other systems have been created such as Cave Automatic Virtual Environments, which project an image onto the walls, floor and ceiling of a room.

As well as this the input devices are just as important to a VR/VE system, with devices ranging from controllers with two or three buttons to electronic gloves and voice recognition software. So, onto some examples of VR/VE systems! In the past we had the pleasure to visit a press day with Quantum 3D, a visual simulation company who got involved with the US Army to create a truly brilliant virtual training device!

Based in San Jose, CA, Quantum3D is a leading developer and manufacturer of real-time visual simulation and computing systems. Founded in 1997, we set out to develop 3D graphics solutions that would change the landscape for applications requiring high-end imagery.

Today, with 100 employees, the company has built upon its core competency of being graphics specialists. Quantum3D now delivers the hardware and software necessary to provide customers with a number of complete solutions: real-time visual simulation for fast-jet, helicopter, refueling, and ground vehicles; synthetic environment creation for out-the-window or sensor-based needs; field-embedded computing for avionics, vehicle, and man-wearable applications; and hardware-in-the-loop solutions.

Our focus is on delivering Commercial-off-the-Shelf (COTS) and open architecture solutions that enable us to deliver “Technology for Solutions” to our military and civilian customers. We combine mainstream PC-based technologies with our unique, value-added hardware, software, and integration services to deliver industry-specific visual computing solutions.

We supply solutions for DO-178B safety-critical avionics applications, embedded visual computing for ground and air vehicles, man-wearable computers for immersive, infantry virtual training, and high-end image generators for visual simulation and training.

Quantum3D’s corporate customers are a virtual “who’s-who” in their industries: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Adacel, TRW, Honda, Thales Training and Simulation, and J.F. Taylor, to name a few. Additionally, Quantum3D has been involved in a host of U.S. Military projects - including the Stryker Interim Armored Vehicle, Bradley A3 Test Bed, M1 Abrams Tank and the Apache project for the Israeli Air Force.

ExpeditionDI is dubbed as an ‘immersive dismounted infantry training platform’, basically meaning that it is a training tool for usage at squad level. ExpeditionDI is a self contained, man wearable, fully immersive simulator, which features a correlated motion and input system that enables soldiers to advance through and interact with a virtual environment using their natural instinct and reflex reactions. The system responds to body movement and presents the correct view according to that motion; take a knee, and your ‘virtual self’ will take a knee, bring the rifle up to aim, the rifle aims so on and so forth, providing a realistic, active three-dimensional training experience.

So now you can see where I’m coming at from the ‘It’s a computer game on steroids’ point of view, but my god it’s a lot more than that. Both me and Joe donned the systems and instantly I was surprised at the weight of the system; no means anything close to full ‘battle rattle’ but for a civvy it’s a load that I wasn’t expecting to be on my back on a hot summers day (one of the very few we have) in a conference room in Central London.

As soon as you put the system on you’re fully immersed in the environment. We were chucked into a Eastern European town given no instructions apart from there is a weapons cache in the area and that hostiles will shoot on sight... Something that hits you regardless of the fact you’re in a virtual world.
Now I will say this... The system itself gets a bit of getting used too, everything works well but the movement system is definitely something that could take a couple of hours too acclimatize to. Quantum3D were given a brief in which the US Army wanted the system to be usable in small spaces and didn’t want any specific training areas to be needed, hence the idea of an analogue stick on the fore-grip of the weapon. And yes it works, but as previously mentioned it is definitely something the body has to get used to; countless times I caught myself trying to walk and getting frustrated that my character wasn’t responding to remember that I have to use the analogue stick!

The AI behind the system is something else, and to a certain extent you do expect it of a training tool designed for military use, but I didn’t expect it to be anywhere near as good as it was. Enemies take cover, they use the environment to their advantage and flank you at any given point. There’s none of this ‘bulletproof baby’ lark; take a round to the head and you’re dead. Just what you want!

Now the system is no way a ‘be all end all’ for the training world, it’s not a marksmanship trainer, nor will it completely prepare soldiers for the strain of deployment but it is a step forward. It is an absolutely outstanding training tool, which allows troops to bond in a near perfect combat situation at a squad level.

Whilst with the guys at Quantum3D they gave me a very interesting statistic. Nearly 40% of infantry fatalities occur during the first three months of deployment. The most dangerous point of a warfighters deployment due to getting used to a new environment as well as learning what ‘real combat’ is. I for one believe that ExpeditionDI could be the training tool to lower that figure and after spending time with the system I definitely have to tip my hat to the team behind it!

Now the title of this section may sound like a badly named Greek legend, however it is infact computing giant Valve’s dabbling in the VR/VE world. Back in March the company voiced their thoughts on VR/VE technology, mentioning how important the company believes virtual technology to be, but left the gaming world in the dark after that.

Yet a year on those blanks were filled, with Valve announcing two relevant sessions during it’s Developer Days conference: ‘What VR Could, Should and Almost Certainly Will Be within Two Years’ and ‘Virtual Reality and Steam’. Better yet the descriptions announced that it would reveal a prototype of what they believe affordable VR hardware to be capable of in the near future amongst other nerd fuelled orgasmic information.

What’s better is you can now order ‘Development Kits’ direct from Oculus VR’s website (Oculusvr.com), for (you guessed it), developers with the technological knowhow to help further the device, and while the product is far from finished it is certainly a HUGE step in the introduction of VR/VE software into the normal person’s household!

Now you’ve got to understand the depth of this, yes it has been developed as a ‘gaming experience’, but there are various other uses for the software, some already being showcased at various tech shows around the world. For example, being able to view London whilst on top of the London Eye, being able to render a architects design and having the ability to walk through it and various medical applications such as training surgeons.

I for one am very excited about this and you should be too!

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