VR system moves furniture with robots to make virtual objects real
As amazing as VR can be, nothing breaks the immersion like putting your hand right through a wall. While some teams are using haptics to simulate the sense of touch, a new study has a clever alternative – robots that move physical furniture around, so there’s a real chair or wall waiting for you.
Named RoomShift, the technology starts off like most VR setups, with the user wearing an Oculus Go headset and a tracking system keeping watch over a room measuring 10 m by 10 m (32.8 ft). But the real fun begins with a fleet of modified Roombas with makeshift scissor lifts attached to them. These robots can scoot under furniture, deploy the scissor lifts to raise it off the ground, carry it to a new spot, then put it down again.
That relatively simple idea has some pretty major implications for VR. You could actually sit on a chair or put items on a table. Rather than a virtual pop-up warning you not to walk any further that way lest you smash a window, a portable wall could dart in front of your hand.
But maybe one of the most ingenious tricks is how smaller pieces of furniture could be constantly moved to trick users into thinking there’s something bigger there. In one video, the team moves a small segment of wall alongside a user as they walk, so that every time they reach a hand out there’s a surface there, giving the distinct impression it’s one continuous wall. In another, a larger table visible in the virtual space is simulated by moving a small one around.
The RoomShift system can handle a few different types of VR uses too. Players can physically walk around the space at room-scale or, if using the common teleport method of moving around, the robots can rearrange the room to match the player’s new perspective. Teleport yourself next to a chair, for instance, and a Roomba will dutifully carry one over to you.
The robots are programmed to avoid each other, the users, and the legs of objects they’re sliding under, and they were tested carrying objects up to 11.2 kg (24.7 lb), but the team says multiple bots could work together to lift heavier items. Furniture, the Roombas and the scissor lifts are all tracked using reflective balls.
In all it’s a very clever solution to an issue that’s already had some creative workarounds. Haptics are a common theme, with rumbling motors, inflating pouches or moving pins packed into boots, gloves, jackets, or other devices you can touch or wear.
RoomShift sounds a bit too complicated for an at-home VR setup, but it could be perfect for public entertainment venues like Zero Latency or AutronVR. For now though, it remains in the realm of a proof-of-concept study.
The research was published in the Proceedings of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. The RoomShift system can be seen in action in the video below.
Source: Ryo Suzuki