Not too long ago, virtual reality was more science fiction than science fact. Over the past couple of years, giant leaps have been made toward developing this robust platform. However, one challenge still stands in the way for greater consumer adoption: motion sickness. But this may change quickly, as a team at Stanford University has developed a more realistic way of presenting virtual reality.
Although the virtual reality arena has some big names, such as the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus, along with Nokia's 3D cameras creating VR content and experiences. But at the end of the day, human biology has the last say on what looks and feels good.
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Researchers at the Stanford Computational Imaging Group have been working on making virtual reality a more natural experience. The current crop of VR displays create the impression of depth through stereoscopic means, where each eye is presented with separate images at slightly different angles. Although depth is simulated, the human eye is still focusing on a flat image. It's the brain's conflict of depth versus focus that can lead to strain, fatigue, headaches, and general simulator sickness from using such VR headsets.
The Stanford team has created a prototype that addresses the issue of focus while also maintaining depth. Instead of displaying a 2D image to each eye, this "light field stereoscope" presents each scene in 4D, allowing eyes to freely focus. If this technology sounds familiar, it's because it's the same as Lytro's light field cameras for photography. The prototype layers one LCD screen on top of the other, which, versus multi-focal-plane displays, results in more effective image formation.
With only two layers, this light field stereoscope greatly improves retinal blur (points of fixation are in sharp focus while points nearer and further away have greater degrees of blurring) and the accuracy of monocular occlusions (bright objects behind dark objects make the latter appear semi-transparent).
The research suggests that adding additional layers can augment the depth range and observer accommodation, thus making the whole experience more comfortable, natural, and less nausea-inducing for the user.
By improving the visual experience and minimizing motion sickness, this light field stereoscope technology could be the boost virtual reality needs to let us enjoy first-person VR games and experiences without needing to keep a barf bag handy.
You can check out the video below for a narrative of this work.