London VR Meetup Special Education Rocked.

Monday evening was my first VR meetup for developers, special education; right down my alley.  Really dynamic, full of enthusiastic developers and makers, a few exciting demos on the first floor and loads of speakers on the ground floor.  All this in a good old fashion London building, the Hackney House.  This blog will cover mostly my experiences with all the demos I have experienced.

The speaker room

First thing I tried was the full body VR immersion kit. It took some time to adjust all the straps around every main bones. Once calibration is done,  fit the Oculus Rift on your head and there you are looking in the mirror at your avatar,  a character attached to your  body and movements. Despite the lack of space (the casual black environment),  a sense of scale was given by a couple of statues. A few tweaks using UX interface designed by Dr Harry Brenton, and you have a tail, a gigantic arm or an alien head. The level of presence get higher with every step. I can’t wait to have full hand and fingers tracked.

Harry Brenton slide on Character Design

The next experience was a real-time holograph in VR. You get the headset on to meet the holographic projection of someone in Lithuania in real-time. She couldn’t see me, though, I could see her, and talk to her over the phone saying “hello” and she would wave her hands. Not yet like in Ghost in the Shell but it works, telepresence, yes!  However, it would be nice to have a sense of  geographic location in the environment, wouldn’t it?

The most exciting demo was about making VR in VR by Constructive Labs.  Still in an early stage, the demo let you manipulate objects in VR using HTC Vive and controllers like you would use the mouse and keyboard in 3Dsmax or Unity. On top, we were able to do that in interaction with another person. Their idea is to develop a VROS, Virtual Reality Operating system.  Pretty cool stuff! However, again, the environment was really poor. They just used a model of a random brick tower as a gimmick surrounding.

The last demo I tried was more on the interactive storytelling treat made by Bandits Collective. Following the hot panel discussion about 360 video a bit earlier in the evening, I think they nailed it quite well. Their intro for a short movie brings you in a computer generated 360 environment animation based and stylish. It is the environment that make you stay where you are and look where the action happens, though you can check all around and even move. There is no interaction. The action is happening around you. Very promising!

There were a couple of other demos with cardboard and other mobile VR. We know what we get there. I am much more interested with what we don’t know. There is still so much to explore, mostly for me, as you can tell, about spatial environment in VR.   On those four demos, only the 360 story has a designed spatial environment that support the experience.

How Much the Mind Can Bend?

If an artist is able to transform the essence of a place using visual illusions, I am wondering how far we can go by exploring the potential of Immersive Virtual Environments (IVE).

Peter Kogler’s installations absorbs the physical constraints of the places he is investigating into a new space/time paradigm. Those constraints are made of walls, floors and ceilings – the three fundamental elements of architecture. By mapping those curvy textures and lines all over those elements, he creates the illusion of flow, of oneness. Usual sense of up and down, right and left, front and back, vanished under the optical illusion of interlaced black lines. This artefact forces the participant to reevaluate his understanding of what his mind takes for granted. Walls appears as swirling vortex . Distances are altered. Floors rise and ceilings bend.

Peter Kogler Room Installation Illusion – Image Courtesy of MyModernMet.com

Now, transposing this into the realm of IVE, where the only constraints are coming from the electronic limitations of hardware to process the information, what kind of strange world will we be able to imagine?

Peter Kogler Room Installation Illusion – Image Courtesy of MyModernMet.com

This is an artist point of view, it is supposed to question the possibilities. However, from an Enactive Approach, the process he is using is very relevant to the design of meaningful IVE. This artwork can only exist through the interaction between the build environment and the moving body.

Similarly, it is by copying those constraints into the electronic realm, that we are allowing a smooth transition to the infinite possibilities of the virtual. As our senses will adapt to this new realm, we will be able to create complete out of this world environments serving the only purpose of the virtual experience. That being said, how will the embodied mind adapt to such an alien environment ? Is the body a constant  or will it change like the astronauts body into space?

Virtual Reality Immersion for Christmas.

Over Christmas, my son and I had the opportunity to play around with the HTC Vive. Straightforward to set up, you need at least 2 by 2 meters of free space to enjoy the full range of motion. Overall, that was a couple of weeks of awesomeness. Follows a few lines on the games and experiences we have tried out.
  • “The Lab”: After the tutorial, this is the first place from where you start and learn the trick of the trade of the Vive. The main thing is to get use to moving around by pointing, with one of the controller, a ray of light  on a virtual grid on the floor. Then, pressing the trigger will teleport you to the pointed location. I am not totally convince by this method. It still gives me a kind of thickness and definitely reduce the feeling of presence.

    The Lab – Where you start to use the grid to teleport around
  • “Rec Room” : my son’s favorite. He  played in there for hours. The stranger thing in Rec Room is that you play with strangers; you talk to them like they are just in front of you in the room. Well in a way that’s where they are,  virtually next to you. Then you make a team and go playing a exciting paintball or football game, even though they actually are in another country.

    Rec Room, playing paint ball game with some frenchy.
  • Portal Stories: VR”:  love it, my personal favorite game. Really good adaptation of an already so clever and fun game. A perfect match for the HTC vive. In one sentence, the game is about getting out of a room to the next. It is all about the room. Your living room suddenly develop an infinite potential.

    Portal Stories: VR
  • “Irrational Exuberance: Prologue” : this introduction to a new kind of experience is really well design with subtlety. It starts from a very dark environment with just the title and some strange sphere of energy in your hands. They are encouraging you to use those to follow the sphere that goes along the title itself. Then you start to perceive some pieces of stone floating around. Instinctively, you want to push them away, then they break in smaller pieces. Doing the same movement a bit further, at some point you will hit something bigger which will break as well to bring you a glimpse of the outer space. This is the actual wall that surrounds you. By break the wall, you realise that you are standing inside a meteorite. The experience is very immersive, and taking you to a place you couldn’t have imagine. We want to see more of that!

    Irrational Exuberance: Prologue by Buffalo Vision Immersion:
  •  “Google Earth VR” :  bring you as a giant on earth. It is a fantastic feeling to be able to jump from one city to the next. I loved landing effortlessly at the top of the world on Mount Everest

    Google Earth VR
  •  “Engage” is a Educational Virtual Learning Platform. That is where I get very exited. That is the core of my research project: how can we use this amazing technology to enhance the learning experience, to change education for ever?

    Engage – Main hall with the whale
We tried a few other applications as well like this architectural walkthrough “Bund88” which was not easy to load up probably due to the very quality of the render. However, the experience was so realistic. This is definitely a game changer for the architecture and real estate industry. The Roller coaster just made me sick, no comment. No problem for my son though.

The HTC vive is just one more convincing step towards the development of a new medium with a huge potential not only for entertaining  but more for learning and sharing new skills and knowledge between people all over the world.

I was in those virtual worlds more than two weeks ago and still, I can close my eyes and vividly remember the different environments and interactions I lived then as it was this morning.  We learn through experience. That is what VR is all about. We are barely scratching the surface of this new tool that has the potential to positively impact the world.

360 Panoramic Views with WebVR – Production Workflow

Optimising work is part of me. I hate repeating the same task again and again. We are using computers, that’s what they are good at, repeating a task for us. When it comes to work in a team, the workflow get even more important so that two different persons don’t overlap each other work or come back with always the same questions of “how you doing this?” or “where is this file?”. This is all good sense in theory, very far for being the norm in practice, at least from my experience, working mostly with architects and designers. Furthermore, as a freelance, months will pass without using a specific workflow,  working on a different project with different software. Being able to look back at how we did something  is a must if we don’t want to repeat the same mistake again.
On the Saydnaya project I was working on with Forensic Architecture for Amnesty International, we produce a series of interactive 360 panoramic views developed using the fresh WebVR. We didn’t get enough time to develop it in VR, although it is real-time 3D online in a browser, no plugin, no viewer needed. Pretty awesome stuff! Here is the workflow we used to get those 8 Interactive 360 Panoramic views online:
Saydnaya Circulation in 3dsMax
  1. Some of the 3d models were made with Rhino then exported to 3dsMax, most of the models were made only with 3dsMax avoiding any mistranslation between Rhino and 3dsMax, two very different modellers.
  2. All the texturing and lighting was done in 3dsMax, then baked to texture.
  3. Optimization was a big part of the process.. Models were  exported in OBJ (only meshes) and optimised with MeshLab. Maps were optimized with Photoshop.
  4. Everything was tested in a sandbox in WebGL using MAMP as a Apache Local Server, Atom to edit the PhD and Python files.
Saydnaya Circulation WebGL

If you are interested  and would like more details, let me know in the comment below or via email.

What is WebVR? It is 3 things, see this Reddit post here for more details:
  • WebVR is configuring the VR HMDs
  • WebGL is about drawing in WebVR using mainly three.js
  • HTML5 is the sandbox to play in.

Saydnaya Project link

Creating Memories in Virtual Reality.

I love  Metaworld ‘s introduction about creating memories despite the fact they are using the social presence as their main attraction, which I completely disregard in my research, … for now. Anyway, you are wondering why would we want to create memories in a virtual environment at the first place? Isn’t it better to go out in the physical world and meet real people?

metaworld-chess
Playing chess inside Metaworld

Well, it doesn’t compare. The whole idea of using VR to create memories is based on a couple of principles that are much more powerful to set up in VR : associations and embodiment.

Firstly, memories love associations. It is by associating one new information in a network of previously formed memories, that we are going to make sense of it and remember it. We will be able to retrieve the memory more efficiently later on by accessing the same network.

Secondly, memories are embodied. We don’t work like computers. We don’t have a hard drive or a cloud to engrave information one by one in a linear manner. We are storing information on a multi modal level within a mind-body system . So the more senses we are using when accessing a new information, which call upon the previous principle of association, the better we will be able to form new memories.

By proposing a persistent online world where we’re entering by immersing ourself with a HMD (Head Mounted Display), a head phone and a couple of controllers in our hands, we are already covering most of our senses. However, in VR we don’t have the same constraints as in the physical world. Anything is possible that can serve the purpose the participant is after. We can fly, we can travel into space, swim in the ocean or go inside a volcano.

Now, one of the debate about embodiment is the question of the avatar. When we enter into VR as ourself, we can see our hands, we don’t want to see a cartoonist body of ours. Although, if we want to interact with other people, we need to see them, somehow. Metaworld solves this issue by using a quite cartoonist avatars with non attached detailed hands. That way, you can see your own hands and other people hands with their avatar.  Let’s try it.