The VirtuSphere: full body immersion Virtual reality at last
By Mike Hanlon
November 11, 2005
November 12, 2005 The VirtuSphere is a new platform that is a breakthrough in the science of Virtual Reality and one we are convinced will take VR into the broader community. It is that significant and more because it is the solution for a million problems offering more compelling, convincing and relevant VR experiences than any device yet conceived, and with VR advancing rapidly in its other constituent areas (graphics, sound, touch, and to a lesser extent, smell and taste), we believe the VirtuSphere will be the device to make VR relevant to the world – this is a killer app. Inside the VirtuSphere, the virtual explorer can physically navigate the virtual world with genuine human movement, - the headset is wireless, and senses 360 degree movement, but unlike any existing virtual reality or gaming peripheral, the floor moves and each virtual step is accompanied by a real one of the same dimensions. It promises to be the ultimate computer games peripheral, the ultimate treadmill at the gymnasium, the ultimate educational resource with remarkable flexibility and offer the most realistic virtual experience of almost any kind - enabling you to walk through the house you’re hiring across the world for your holidays or explore the Daintree Rainforest. It also has major occupational training implications as it offers experiential learning for everyone from athletes to fire fighters and is already being developed by the military for training crack troops and saving lives on the battlefield. Like we said, this is significant!
November 12, 2005 The VirtuSphere is a breakthrough in Virtual Reality and one we are convinced will take VR into the broader community. It offers a more compelling, convincing and relevant set of virtual reality experiences than any device yet conceived, and with VR advancing rapidly in its other constituent areas (graphics, sound, touch, and to a lesser extent, smell and taste), we believe it will be the device to make VR relevant to the world. Inside the VirtuSphere, the virtual explorer can physically navigate the virtual world with genuine human movement, - the headset is wireless, and senses 360 degree movement, but unlike any existing virtual reality peripheral, the floor moves and each virtual step is accompanied by a real one of the same dimensions.
A decade ago VR inputs were limited to the eyes and ears being fed enough computer-generated information to offer rudimentary sort-of-believable virtual worlds. The human brain seems happy to suspend disbelief and accept many crude kludges in order to roleplay along with a VR event, but the missing factor has been the ability to give the body the same sort of corresponding feedback as the brain. You can’t simulate true human movement with any authenticity without the exertion normally accompanying it – until the invention of the VirtuSphere.
The VirtuSphere is a large hollow sphere that sits atop of a base of rollers enabling the sphere to rotate 360 degrees. Wearing a wireless, head-mounted display, users can walk, jump, roll, crawl and run in any direction over unlimited distances without encountering real-world physical obstacles. The Virtisphere is a fundamental step forward for the entire science as it offers six degrees of freedom.
With computers and graphics engines growing exponentially in processing power, the ability to generate life-like 360 degree audio and visuals at the speeds necessary for realism is fast approaching, and thanks to Moore’s Law, inevitable.
So the major barrier left to creating convincing virtual reality, is the realistic immersion of the whole body – to enable the human body to move through a virtual world as vast and exhausting as the real one.
The VirtuSphere is both an input device and an enabling technological platform, opening up new possibilities for fully experiencing VR and to commercially exploit it.
The VirtuSphere could also be the ultimate 360 degree treadmill because it adapts to millions of applications and can significantly enhance a range of VR experiences ranging from walking through a building before it is built or after it has perished, taking a stroll through 16th century Amsterdam or exploring a virtual coliseum in incredible authenticity.
VirtuSphere has already been used to sell Moscow as the 2012 Olympic venue and although London got the gig, has subsequently been rolled out by the Russian Tourism Authorities making it possible to walk the Red Square and the Kremlin and experience enough of their magic to promote a physical journey with real dollars to spend.
It also offers on-the-job training for very dangerous jobs without the mortality rate - a soldier can learn to respond appropriately before encountering real world, life-threatening situations. SWAT team members can walk a virtual building prior to ingress into the real building and soldiers can understand the layout of a city they are about to attack.
First responders can learn to respond effectively to the varied circumstances they can encounter, well before a mistake might cost a life. Sporting team members can rehearse their roles in complex drills to perfection, or test their endurance over a mountain trail and measure their body’s physical output at the same time.
But the most commercial opportunities will come in entertainment and education. And as an amusement park ride or museum exhibit, the VirtuSphere can help synthesise a compelling and authentic experience in many genres – from walking on the moon to visiting a Ugandan orphanage to walking across the virtual playing field while the real game is on.
How much and where do I get it?
If you want a VirtuSphere with the lot, right now, it’ll cost you US$100,000 – prohibitive for individuals but not for mission-critical training environments such as the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the U.S. Marine Corps VIRTE program.
Though in its infancy as a company VirtuSphere might one day hold some significant sway in the history of the computer human interface. VirtuSphere is already being employed in a host of wys by companies and institutions as diverse as Intel, CyberCup 2005, the Central Museum of Communications, St. Petersburg State University of Telecommunications, the Moscow 2012 Olympic Bid Committee, Taftneft Oil and Gas Museum, Polytechnic Museum and the Tourism Office of the Moscow City Government
VirtuSphere systems are made to client specifications and typically include an easy-to-assemble sphere, a base platform that enables it to rotate, a head-mounted display, 3D sensors, sphere rotation trackers, a computer, device drivers and 3D software applications.
Made out of plastic via injection moulding, the company is 90% down the road towards volume manufacture but is still in start-up mode seeking funding quite aggressively. “Once the funds are available, we need between three and six months of lead time to set up manufacturing,” says VirtuSphere’s Alexey Palladin. “Most of the funds we’re looking for are for tooling and manufacturing process at this point. Most of the components of system design have already been figured out and we are selling advanced prototypes in the US$50K to 100K price range depending on the configuration.
Those prototypes are advanced versions of what will become the final product.
“At the bottom end of our offerings for US$50,000, you’d get a fully-functioning system of the sphere and the basic platform and the important components which are the trackers. We use an ultrasonic Doppler effect radar to track the XYposition of the sphere so as the person moves inside the sphere all the steps and movements are tracked by a fixed position ultra sound device - we call it a docator. The other component is the wireless head-mounted display.
Founder Ray Latypov patented the basic idea of the machine a decade ago in Russia, and the path through the development of the idea and the machinery has been one he has jealously shepherded, “to create a platform that is as natural as possible.”
We’re bullish on this product and the vision of this company.
It is entirely within the realms of possibility that within a few years, you might find more than one of these babies in your local gymnasium with a range of software to simulate different forms of competition you can engage in while you are wqorking out in the VirtuSphere.
And given its ability to plug into a computer under the Christmas tree with a price-tag reduced by more than an order of magnitude and full connectivity to run the next generation of gaming consoles. Before then, you might inspect your next investment property using a VirtuSphere – two years before it is constructed of atoms and habitable.