The future is here, and it is glorious – but it’s not real. Or so said Mark Zuckerberg in an interview published Wednesday, wherein he sketched Facebook’s grand ambitions for virtual reality. If Zuckerberg’s billions have anything to do with it (and it’s reasonable to suppose that they will), headsets like the Oculus Rift will shape our future digital lives, transforming everything from movie-watching, to tennis matches, to sharing baby pictures with our friends into immersive, technicolour 3D experiences.
Step by step, Sketchfab is turning into the best platform to view 3D models using a virtual reality headset. First, the company added a VR button on every browsing page, then it released apps to support all VR headsets and showcase a few models. Now, the New York-based startup is making it easier to move around 3D models. All 3D models on Sketchfab now have a 2-dimensional “floor” so you can change your point of view. It means that you can point in a direction with your eyes, and Sketchfab will project a pointer on the floor. If you use the button on your cardboard headset, Samsung Gear VR or push a button on the Rift or Vive controller, then you instantly teleport yourself to this point. This movement model will sound familiar if you’ve used VR headsets in the past.
A PhD student at Queen’s University Belfast decided to create a robot which would create the illusionary feeling of touching virtual objects, the first step along a long timeline of making “The Matrix” a reality. As the user pushes a wooden box in virtual reality, the robot simulates the resistance of pushing a real box. We’re not at the stopping-bullets-with-the-power-of-your-mind stage just yet. Give us time.
Oculus is Latin for “eye,” and the Oculus Rift, which went on sale earlier this year and lists for $599, is an incredible device. Strapped to the head, it offers 360 degrees of vision and sound, potentially opening new possibilities in playing games—the gateway drug for VR, Zuckerberg says. He also wants it to be used for watching sports, making movies, joining conversations around the world, or things no one’s imagined yet. But it’s still limited—in resolution, how it tracks movement, and how the body responds to what it projects, among many other things. The problems are enormous and require a deeper understanding of human sensory mechanisms than currently exists. (For example, how should a pair of goggles follow the movement of the eye to allow the processor to manipulate the plane of focus?) It’s going to take billions to make it work.
Imagine shopping for a new car at a dealership that keeps no cars on the lot. Or test-driving a new truck from your couch. Both are possible with a new virtual-reality app from Evox Productions LLC that could transform the car-buying experience. “We think VR is going to be the next big thing,” said Dave Weber, vice president of sales and marketing for the Rancho Dominguez, California-based company. “It’s not just for the auto industry. It’s going to have as large an impact as a smartphone or the iPod or color TV. There’s going to be a very steep ramp-up.”