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How a spinning chair made virtual reality feel more real

April 22, 2015 | Telepresence Options

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Story and images by Jamie Rigg / Engadget

When donning a VR headset, it's easy to be awestruck by whatever 3D world you find yourself in. It's a whole new medium that simply can't be replicated on a TV. Still, there are reasons the likes of Oculus and Sony aren't selling headsets to the masses just yet. While Samsung's Gear VR and other smartphone-powered headwear are filling the void, headsets that tap into the processing might of PCs and consoles will ultimately deliver the most immersive experiences. But, the technology isn't quite there yet. Stereoscopic 3D can be jarring, with complicated worlds often appearing slightly out of focus. Then there are issues like nausea that can strike when moving through virtual surroundings. Also, how we interact with virtual spaces will continue to evolve, moving beyond the gamepad and keyboard to more natural and hopefully intuitive methods of control.

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Headset hardware can only do so much to address these limitations, which is why several companies are developing peripherals intended to enhance the VR experience. Roto is one of these supplemental gadgets. Simply put, it's a motorized chair platform with a footplate controller you twist to control the direction and speed of the spinning seat. Describing it in so few words doesn't really do the Roto justice, however, as it's much more than an overcomplicated alternative to a mouse or joystick. Sure, it essentially performs the same function, but there's something about moving in time with your virtual avatar that brings a whole new dimension of realism to the VR world.

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One of the primary aims of Roto is to give VR users a greater sense of freedom when exploring their virtual surroundings. With a VR headset, you're always focused on what's directly in front of you. Yes, you can turn your head in every direction to see what's beyond your peripheral vision, but we're not owls, and the human neck is only comfortable when your eyeline is centered, or thereabouts. This is true in real life, too, where the natural reaction is to turn your body to catch up with your head when it reaches more severe angles. This is essentially impossible in the VR world if you're seated in a fixed position, so instead of turning your body, you shift your point of view using a controller.

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