Virtual reality is here. The Oculus Rift is bring this concept, which up until now has been restricted to amusement parks and popular science fiction shows, to the everyday user.
We’re not living in The Matrix yet, but recent developments in Virtual Reality technology may mean we will soon be able to abandon this reality, for a different one. All from the comfort of your own home.
What is it
The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset that allows users to experience their favourite media as if they were immersed in the game or film itself.
Sounds a bit like Star Trek, doesn’t it?
The device was invented by a Virtual Reality enthusiast named Palmar Luckey. It works with other devices like computers or smartphones to create these immersive 3D worlds.
Why is that unique though? I remember as a kid going to the local fair and playing those simple virtual reality games. My favourite put you on a hang glider in a digital skyscape. Yeah, you couldn’t take them home with you but it was still there.What makes Oculus Rift stand out is the peripheral vision and low latency head tracking it provides.
- Stereoscopic 3D View: The Oculus Rift presents unique and parallel images for each eye. This is the same way your eyes perceive images in the real world, which creates a more natural experience.
- Ultra Wide Field of View: It provides approximately 100 degree field of view – stretching the world behind your peripheral vision.
- Low Latency 360 degree Head Tracking: This allows you to seamlessly look around the virtual world just like you would in real life. Every subtle movement of your head is tracked in real time.
Perhaps the most amazing feature is that fact that the Oculus Rift has been developed for personal and private use. You no longer have to head to the fair like I used to when I was a kid – you can enter virtual reality from the comfort of your own home.
That means it’s affordable! The predicted cost for consumers is around 500 dollars. You can buy the development kit now for $350.00
Using it from your home is the goal of the young CEO and entrepreneur, Brendan Iribe. He has aimed to sell the Oculus Rift headset to 1 billion people worldwide
How does it work
The device itself looks like a cross between a ski and a scuba mask. It fits snugly over the users face and is paired with headphones.
A large cellophane screen rests in front of the eyes. Using the above analogy, this screen is where the glass would be. The screen displays two images side by side.
A set of lenses is placed on top of the screen, focusing and reshaping the picture for each eye, and creating that stereoscopic 3D image. The goggles have embedded sensors that monitor the wearer’s head motions and adjust the image accordingly.
The result of all of this is the sensation that you are looking around a 3D world.
How did it get its start
Based in Irvine, California the company was founded by a 20 year old engineer named Palmer Luckey. He designed the basic headset, and showed a prototype at the E3 gaming convention in 2012.
Shortly after E3, Luckey teamed up with Bredan Iribe, who would go on to become the CEO of Oculus Rift. The two launched a Kickstarter project in August 2012 to sell prototype versions.
Their goal was to raise $250,000 to produce Development kits so people could produce content. They hit that goal within four hours, and within a month had raised nearly $2.5 million.
Early prototypes soon drew raves at tech conferences. Last year gaming legend John Carmack, the lead programmer for popular games like Doom and Quake came aboard as the chief technology officer. Both CNN and Time honoured the Rift in 2013 as one of the top inventions of the year.
The original Oculus Rift development kit very quickly sold out. The company has now launched a revamped $350.00 Development Kit 2 (DK2) model while continuing to work on its eventual customer version.
You can actually see all the amazing things the developers are coming up with! These include everything from putting yourself inside a digital movie theatre, to walking along the bridge of the Star Ship Voyager. Check them out for yourself HERE
The creator of the Oculus Rift is a self proclaimed gamer. It should come as no surprise that the Rift was developed to be, first and foremost, a video game platform.
That being said, the current version of Oculus Rift is not compatible with game consoles, but only with computers (Windows, Mac and Linux), and certain games on those computers. (You can find a full list of those games here )
Currently, the consumer version will not be compatible with game consoles either. Oculus VR has said it is talking with console makers changing that in the future.
However, since Sony is developing its own VR headset for the PS4, dubbed Project Morpheus, the odds of Oculus Rift being compatible are pretty slim.
Although two editions of developer kits are now available, Oculus has not announced a hard date for the consumer-oriented Oculus Rift. Initially, people expected the product to ship by mid-2014, but given how much the device is still being fine tuned, it may be even later than that. The device could hit shelves by late 2014, although early 2015 is not out of the question.
Of course, true virtual reality can’t be conceived until movements in the real world can translate to the digital. Right now, if you started walking while wearing the Oculus Rift you would smack straight into a wall – or something worse.
That is were the Virtuix Omni comes in. It’s a virtual reality interface for moving freely and naturally in your favourite game.
The Omni uses special shoes and a frictionless surface to allow for movement without any awkward or unpleasant collisions with walls.
They have already had a successful Kickstarter campaign where they raised over $3 million.
Outside of Videogames
The potential for the Oculus Rift technology is almost limitless. Below are a few examples at how it can be used to enhance our existing reality:
- Military Use: The virtual-reality headset designed for gaming applications is now being used by the Norwegian army to help them drive tanks by providing a 360-degree view outside the vehicle. This allows for the driver to negotiate hazardous situations without having to open the hatch and look around.
- Therapy for amputees and stroke victims
- Controlling Robots on Mars
- Seeing inside the body
- Treatment for PTSD
Facebook has its fingers in a lot of pies, and VR is no exception. On Mar. 25, 2014, Oculus VR was bought the by social networking giant Facebook for a $2 billion dollars.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the headset has the chance to create the most social platform ever.
Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow, Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.’
Despite this buy out, Luckey is saying that Oculus VR will continue to operate out of its Irvine headquarters. He says they will use Facebook’s’ backing to enhance their product.
As for today, Facebook has already released an announcement that you can use Oculus Rift to navigate the social media browser Hootsuite.
Being sued is almost a rite of passage for companies now a days, and Oculus is no exception. Maryland-based media company ZeniMax Media Inc., has claimed that Oculus Rift is their brainchild.
They claim the intellectual property that runs Oculus Rift was stolen by John Carmack.
Oculus, for its part, denies ZeniMax’s claims.
“It’s unfortunate, but when there’s this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims. We intend to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent,” an Oculus spokesperson told IGN.
Whatever will happen with Oculus Rift in the future, this blogger can’t wait to get her hands on one!