Stanford Researchers Develop Next-Generation Virtual Reality Headset
Stanford researchers have developed a Virtual Reality (VR) headset that reduces eye fatigue, nausea, and “VR motion sickness,” often reported by users of VR headsets. The device, developed by the Stanford Computational Imaging Group, is a light-field stereoscope that creates a more natural VR experience than today’s leading headsets.
“Virtual Reality is exploding today in Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and beyond,” notes Gordon Wetzstein, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Stanford and the Computational Imaging Group leader, in the video. In fact, Facebook’s VR headset Oculus Rift, scheduled to hit the consumer market early next year, and similar devices developed by other manufacturers, are poised to transform entertainment and social interaction online. Recently Steven Spielberg joined a Holliwood VR company as an adviser, and the era of VR cinema is starting.
“Virtual reality gives us a new way of communicating among people, of telling stories, of experiencing all kinds of things remotely or closely,” said Wetzstein.
It’s going to change communication between people on a fundamental level.
Avoiding VR Motion Sickness
However, while current VR display technology imitates natural vision, it doesn’t yet imitate natural vision well enough to avoid unnatural feelings, and some people get VR motion sickness (apparently more women than men report getting VR motion sickness).
In current “flat” stereoscopic virtual reality headsets, each eye sees only one image, explains Wetzstein. Depth of field is also limited, as the eye is forced to focus on only a single plane. In the real world, we see slightly different perspectives of the same 3D scene at different positions of our eye’s pupil. Therefore, VR headsets introduce “a conflict between the visual cues your eyes focus on and how your brain combines what your two eyes see.”
The researchers developed a new light-field stereoscope technology that creates a sort of hologram for each eye to make the experience more natural. The light field creates multiple, slightly different perspectives over different parts of the same pupil. Viewers can freely move focus and experience depth in the virtual scene, just as in real life. Wetzstein said:
You have a virtual window which ideally looks the same as the real world, whereas today you basically have a 2D screen in front of your eye.
The device, dubbed “Light Field Stereoscope” and develoepd in collaboration with NVIDIA, will be presented and demonstrated at SIGGRAPH 2015. It’s interesting to speculate on the possibility that NVIDIA, in collaboration with the Stanford Computational Imaging Group, could enter the VR headset market. Writing on Seeking Alpha, technology stock analyst Paulo Santos notes that a high-performance VR headsets require a high-end GPU, which makes the sector a natural match for NVIDIA.
Images from Stanford University, NVIDIA, and Wikimedia Commons.