Researchers at MIT cut the VR cord
The VR brain trust – including consumers, developers, engineers and evangelists – agree that today's best virtual reality experiences are being tethered, both literally and figuratively, by a reliance on cables. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have just announced a solution with possible industry-wide implications.
CSAIL created a prototype system that uses high-frequency radio signals to run VR headsets sans HDMI cable. These radio signals, which are called millimeter waves or mmWaves, demonstrate potential for a variety of other mobile technology applications, including 5G smartphones.
The shortcoming of mmWaves is that they require a clear line of sight between the transmitter and receiver, or there will be an interruption in connectivity. Even a slight blockage like a moving hand is enough to interrupt the signal.
To counter this, CSAIL developed a signal-reflecting technology dubbed MoVR, which redirects incoming mmWave signals from the sender to the receiver. Each MoVR has two small antennae that electronically steer themselves to refocus the signal as necessary. CSAIL refers to MoVR as a "programmable mirror" because it reflects incoming signals without being subject to angle of incidence and reflection laws.
CSAIL says it will be possible to make MoVRs as small as smartphones, which would allow VR users to position multiple devices around the room and provide enough coverage for multiple user gameplay.
This development comes on the coattails of HTC's newly announced TPCAST accessory, which recently became available for pre-order in China. It promises to make the HTC Vive completely wireless. But unlike the TPCAST, which only works for the Vive (so far), CSAIL says that MoVR's mmWave technology can work with any headset, including Oculus Rift, the Vive's most formidable competitor.
HTC and TPCAST haven't announced any details about the underlying technology in their wireless VR solution.
CSAIL's findings (full paper) may come as a surprise to some VR enthusiasts. At this year's Oculus Connect annual conference in October, Oculus Chief Scientist Michael Abrash said there was no current wireless technology capable of carrying the massive amounts of data (upwards of 6 Gbps) that VR requires.