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Martin Bellet - 23/03/2015

Virtual reality in the consumer age

Immersive reconstruction of a Gallo-roman site using Immersia, a virtual reality platform developed jointly by Inria Rennes-Bretagne Atlantique and the IRISA laboratory Immersive reconstruction of a Gallo-roman site using Immersia, a virtual reality platform developed jointly by Inria Rennes-Bretagne Atlantique and the IRISA laboratory - © Inria - IRISA / Photo B. Arnaldi

On the occasion of the IEEE VR conference taking place at the end of March 2015 in Arles, Sabine Coquillart, General Chair of the conference and research director of the Inria Grenoble – Rhône-Alpes PRIMA project team, describes the changes taking place today in the virtual reality market. Taking advantage of the availability of increasingly powerful smartphones, the market is rapidly opening up to the general public. Sabine Coquillart explains why.

Why are we beginning to talk about ‘consumer VR*’?

Sabine Coquillart © Inria / Photo J. Wallace

As little as two or three years ago, no-one could have imagined that virtual reality would become as accessible to the general public as it has today.

We owe this expansion in the market to the availability of a new generation of smartphones incorporating high-definition screens, movement sensors, high-speed network connections, and powerful computing capabilities.

All we needed in order to exploit this potential was some way of converting these phones into virtual reality headsets. The solution arrived in 2014 in the form of Google Cardboard, costing just a few US dollars, and Samsung Gear VR, developed in partnership with Oculus VR. Together with free-standing systems such as the Oculus Rift and Sensics SmartGoggles which incorporate an Android system, these innovations provide smartphone users with the potential to access virtual reality applications at a reasonable cost. While I think that it is still too soon to predict the eventual success of mass-market virtual reality applications, the growing number of development projects can only be encouraging.

What are the obstacles that still have to be overcome?

While no-one can doubt that they work, these headsets have a long way to go before they can equal the performance of some of the systems already in use for decades in industry, such as the room-sized CAVE systems. In order to become accepted, these headsets must be improved in terms of resolution, field of view and response time. There are two main areas requiring further research over the next few years. Mass-market solutions need to be improved by taking advantage of the experience gained with professional systems, and research needs to be targeted on more professional solutions, including an extension of the use of haptic** technology.

Whichhappens to be your particular field of research …

I’m really interested in all these problems, but mainly in pseudo-haptic solutions. For example, this technology could be used to give a virtual reality user the impression that they were pressing against a spring while, in reality, it is nothing more than a force sensor. Providing visual feedback from the force sensor creates the illusion of pressing against a spring, and it is even possible to vary the apparent stiffness. Simple and less computationally intensive solutions of this type are essential in the development of mass-market applications.

What are the potential uses of this technology?

There are many applications, but we have worked on one project in the human sciences that would not have been possible without the use of virtual reality. We have tried to gain a better understanding of the causes of a relatively poorly understood disease, hemisensory neglect, by haptically disturbing half the space around a healthy subject.  Patients suffering from hemisensory neglect are not aware of what is happening in half the space around them, an experience that is impossible to simulate in reality. Following their success in some areas of industry, I believe that the relatively simple virtual reality solutions currently arriving on the market offer real future potential in many fields of activity.

* Consumer VR: Virtual reality applications for the general public.

** Science of the sense of touch.

Keywords: 3D immersion IEEE VR 2015 Consumer VR Virtual reality

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