Microsoft researchers develop immersive daily commute

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Microsoft researchers have presented new virtual reality (VR) technologies, including a system that lets users walk around the real world while fully immersed in a virtual one.

Quick read

➨ DreamWalker allows users to safely navigate route while seeing themselves strolling a different VR world

➨ Mise-Unseen uses eye-tracking technology to allow covert changes to be made to a VR environment while a user’s gaze and attention are fixed on something else

➨ CapstanCrunch features a linear and directional brake that can sustain human-scale forces and is light, energy efficient and robust

The story

The VR technologies were presented at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology this week.

DreamWalker allows users to safely navigate route in a real-world environment, such as a daily walk to work, while seeing themselves strolling a different VR world, such as a city of their choosing.

The system adapts to a chosen route, making it possible to transform a walk to  a bus stop into a walk through Times Square in VR.

A precursor project, VRoamer, enabled playing a VR game inside an uncontrolled indoor environment. DreamWalker takes the technology another step, merging the constraints of the virtual city tour and the actual path the user will travel in the real world, which may differ, while handling the complex difficulties of an uncontrolled outdoor environment.

To accomplish this task, the technology first plans users’ paths in the virtual world and then uses real-time environment detection, walking redirection, and virtual world updates once users have embarked on their journeys, according to Microsoft.

Prior to the start of the walk, path planning finds a path in the virtual world that will minimise differences with the real-world path. It will also identify any potential corrections needed in the virtual world so that the user doesn’t collide with any known objects in the real world. 

Differences will be corrected by gradual redirection while users walk and also by introducing virtual scenarios that will force users to correct their own paths, such as roadblocks.

Stanford University PhD student Jackie Yang, a Microsoft Research intern at the time of the work, and Microsoft researchers Eyal Ofek, Andy Wilson and Christian Holz, presented the new system in their paper, ‘DreamWalker: Substituting Real-World Walking Experiences with a Virtual Reality’.

Complementing DreamWalker is Mise-Unseen, which uses eye-tracking technology to allow covert changes to be made to a VR environment while a user’s gaze and attention are fixed on something else.

Researchers have also developed a new haptic controller called CapstanCrunch. The device features a linear and directional brake that can sustain human-scale forces and is light, energy efficient and robust.

Image credit: Microsoft