Modal VR sets out to simplify large-scale virtual reality

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The view from inside (top) and outside (bottom) a virtual world made possible with Modal VR(Credit: Modal VR)

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With the PSVR launching this week, and plenty of Oculus Rifts, HTC Vives and Gear VRs already in the wild, people's VR options are growing, but not everybody has the space or cash for a decent setup. More and more we're seeing companies step in to offer VR as a theme park or arcade type of experience, and the latest to throw its hat into the ring is Modal VR, with a semi-portable system that can reportedly track the heads and gestures of up to 10 players, without trailing cables everywhere.

Over the past summer, Madam Tussauds in New York has been host to The Void's "Hyper-Reality" experience tied to the Ghostbusters reboot, and Zero Latency, a warehouse-scale zombie shooter in Melbourne, Australia, recently opened a new game in Sega's Joypolis amusement park in Tokyo.

In a similar vein, Modal VR is not something you'd buy for your lounge room, but an enterprise-level system designed to facilitate these larger public experiences. Video game history buffs might recognize co-founder Nolan Bushnell, who's responsible for forming Atari (and in some run-on accounts, spawning the modern video game industry) and starting up the kiddie restaurant chain, Chuck E. Cheese.

Rather than stuffing the brains in a backpack like The Void and Zero Latency, Modal VR's power comes from a dedicated unit it calls the VR Fabricator, which communicates with the headsets and body suit wirelessly. Each unit can track the locations, body positions, and voice comms of up to 10 players at once, but by stringing them together over a local network or online can apparently support "exponentially" more users. Admins control the game through the Command Center software, running on a connected laptop or PC.

VR headsets aren't flattering at the best of times, and with its two bug-like antennae on top, Modal VR's Visor is no exception. That said, we'll forgive it if it can fulfil its promise of very low-latency, wireless VR. Built-in headphones provide 3D audio, and there's a little gaming mic hanging in front of the wearer's mouth through which to bark orders at teammates.

Body tracking is handled by what looks like a series of straps that monitor the movement of the arms, legs and waist, capped off with gloves. Modal VR says the suit is optional, but if it actually works well, it might be the key ingredient. Like a motion capture system for animation, the suit can also record a wearer's movements, for QA or other purposes later.

All up, Modal VR claims the system can track users across 900,000 sq ft (83,613 sq m), which, if true, is a pretty big leap up from Zero Latency's 4,036 sq ft (375 sq m). Although arcade and theme park attractions are probably the most obvious uses, the company believes the system could find applications in education, tourism, military training, real estate and art installations, and is apparently portable enough to set up in minutes, for pop-up purposes.

Many of the hardware and software specs haven't been announced yet, but Modal VR says that's because it hasn't locked down all those details yet. A beta is due to launch soon, and the team is putting the call out to developers interested in creating games and software, which can be done using tools like Unity 3D and the Unreal Engine. In that sense, it sounds similar to what WorldViz announced earlier this year.

Check out the introduction video below.

Source: Modal VR

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