For years, the allure of being immersed in an artificial reality with limitless possibilities has pervaded human thought. Virtual reality in movies like The Matrix, The Lawnmowerman and Tron, helped to popularize the idea of another computer world.
Back then it was a plot device, but now it's a real consumer product.
Michael James Katchabaw, an associate professor of computer science at Western, researches virtual and augmented reality for entertainment and health applications.
He explains that this new phenomenon has gained traction in part due to its increasing accessibility.
“It used to be that if you wanted to have a decent head-mounted display like the Oculus Rift you’d be looking upwards of $10–20,000. Now we’re talking about these things coming out for a small number of hundreds of dollars,” Katchabaw says.
This means that purchasing a device that allows you to superimpose a reality over your own is akin to buying a PlayStation 4.
Currently, the most popular virtual reality device is the Oculus Rift.
“I’ve used the Oculus Rift, we’ve actually got two of them in our lab here — and we’re going to be getting more of them shortly. They are the real deal as far as this stuff goes," Katchabaw says.
Arianit Uka, a software engineer at Big Viking Games and part-time teacher at Fanshawe for game development also attests to the immersive experience of the Oculus Rift.
“The first time I put on the Oculus Rift, I tried this game Valkyrie and it was just insane — I freaked out. I put this thing on, looked around and had this fake body, it was just crazy,” he says.
Despite its success, the Oculus Rift is not perfect. There are still issues with creating a completely immersive experience.
“I think that’s one of the significant hurdles that we’re going to have to get over first is how do we enable people to go up to objects that are in the virtual and manipulate them with their hands,” Katchabaw says.
For anyone who has tried the Oculus Rift, it's truly an uncanny experience. While you can hold and move things around, there is no tangibility or textile feedback.
“These virtual objects aren’t tangible. You might be able to go up and start turning them around and doing stuff with them, but you don’t have the physicality of them in your hand. There’s no textile feedback,” Katchabaw says.
In some cases, people have experienced motion sickness after using the Oculus Rift.
“Motion sickness is a real thing. For games where your character is moving and you’re not moving in real life, there is a great potential for feeling sick. I got a lot of motion sickness and I was very surprised. Some games make you pretty sick, not puking, but unable to play,” Arianit Uka says.
Aside from the minor glitches and deficiencies, the rate at which virtual reality software and hardware is developing is very rapid.
“Now that there’s more of an interest in virtual reality we are seeing more hardware coming out of the market which is going to spur more software and hopefully that’s going to drive prices down and make things more available,” Katchabaw says.