Last week, I had the opportunity to try out the Oculus Rift – Leap Motion Demo in Goldsmiths Digital Studio. Here is the set up: with the Oculus Rift on your head, you stand in the middle of the room, a couple of wire climbing up to the ceiling. There is enough space around you to take a few steps in every directions. A small camera sitting on the front wall will capture the movement of your head in real time: rotating, tilting and panning. Stick on the face of the Head Mounted Display (HMD) is the Leap Motion sensor which will capture your hands movements in front of you. An ambient music is running in the background for everyone in the room to listen to. Sounds, triggered by your movement as well as your reactive expressions will give any observer present in the room a great incentive to try the device for themself. That’s all they perceive from the outside though.
From your point of view (the participant), it is a very different situation. You are immersed in a simple world made of a grid like grey plane levelled up with your chest and surrounded by a black environment. A variety of solids (3D geometric shapes) like cubes, cuboids and other polyhedra randomly spread on the grid surface will attract your attention. Right in front of you is a little character guiding you through available gestures you can use to interact with those solids. By pinching with both hands, you can create more solids, by opening one hand you are able to point at different shapes to choose from with a finger of your other hand. You can actually interact with all those solids around you, pick them up, build walls or even throw them away. Then, with both hands flat out, palms up, moving gently up, gravity will go away, and all the polyhedra will float above you. The opposite gesture, palms down, will bring gravity back and all the solids down to the ground.
This interaction makes you feel a sense of power and control over things you can only dream of. By playing for a few minutes, because the interactions with those solids is so subtle, your sense of touch will rapidly becoming more accurate and develop some level of haptic feedback.
So, yes, great experience overall, being able to see your hands in Virtual Reality is definitely adding up to the feeling of immersion. It is not just looking around in a 360 panoramic view. By being able to interact with your environment directly using your hands and moving things around, the sensation of presence in another space is undeniable.