Virtualized Reality

Project Overview:

Virtualized Reality, at its core, is about having and exploring an out of body experience. It allows participants to explore the relationships between vision, perspective, and agency through progessively more disorienting experience. It was designed in collaboration with Jonathan Ota in Spring of 2012. The experience is divided into three distinct stages:

  1. Participants view themselves in 3rd person using the Kinect's RGB Camera. They begin to orient themselves to an out of body viewing experience, learning to navigate their environment in third person while retaining familiarity with normal perceptions of space.
  2. Participants view themselves in 3rd person using a combination of the Kinect's depth sensing and the RGB camera, in which object's hues are brightened or darkened based on how far they are from the participant. This also is the first display that takes into account depth of environment.
  3. Participants view the point cloud constructed by the Kinect's depth sensing in a shifting perspective that takes them not only outside of their own body, but actually rotates the perspective of the scene around them even if they remain stationary. This forces participants to navigate by orienting their body's geometry to the geometry of space rather than standard visual navigation. While disorienting, the changing perspective takes participants even farther out of their own bodies.

Design and Process Overview:

We wanted to create a strong, clean visual appeal to our structure, something that was both futuristic and functional. We ended up going with an aesthetic based on white Styrene and clean birch plywood. Jonathan's first iteration of the project had given us some good measurements as far as perspective goes, but we had a lot of work to do structurally and aesthetically.

We started by sketching a variety of designs for helmets and backpack structures.

The Helmet:

After sketching, we built a few foam helmet models, one of which is pictured below:

This was followed by a material exploration using layer strips of Styrene, but the results were a bit messy and didn't hold form very well.

Then, Jonathan modeled a faceted design in RhinoCAD that we felt really evoked the overall look and feel of our project.

This was then laser cut into chipboard and reassembled into a 3D form:

Happy with this form, we recut it in white styrene and bonded it together with acrylic cement.

The Truss:

At the same time, we had also been designing the back truss that would hold the Kinect behind and above the participant's head.

First we prototyped in Foamcore board:

Then we modeled them in RhinoCAD:

Finally, we used a CNC Mill to cut them out of birch plywood:

The Backpack

The curved rear shell of the backpack was made by laminating together thin sheets of wood with a resin-based epoxy, then vacuuming the wood to a mold as the epoxy cured.

We then cut a back plate and mounted the truss to it.

Jonathan tests out the backpack with a blue foam laptop:

Finally, we added a styrene pocket at the base of the truss to hold the scan converter, Kinect battery and voltage regulator, and extra cable length.

Expansion and Further Thoughts:

While we had initially concepted the project to use heavy amounts of algorithmic distortion of the 3D space of the participant, we found that it was both computationally infeasible (the awesomely powerful library ran at about 4fps) as well as overly disorienting. The experience of viewing yourself in 3rd person is disorienting enough, and combined with the low resolution of Kinect and the virtual reality goggles, distorting the environment loses its meaning. An interesting expansion for us would be real-time control over the suit, something like handtracking to do the panning and tilting, or perhaps a wearable control in a glove or wristguard.

Collaborators: Jonathan Ota