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ITC Visits the NASA VR Lab

On Thursday July 7th myself and some of my fellow ITC organizers were privileged enough to get a chance to meet with Eddie Paddock, Evelyn Miralles and the rest of the team at NASA’s Integrated EVA/RMS Virtual Reality Sim Facility, or VR Lab for short. We discussed the team’s involvement in this year’s Immersive Technology Conference and they were gracious enough to give a tour of the lab itself along with some of their equipment. The highlight of their lab, at least for me, is the simulators they have dubbed Charlotte (due to the web of wires that are attached to the metal box in the picture below).

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They also utilize custom made hand tracking and custom built headsets for this simulator (Show below).

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The feeling of floating in space around the space station is incredible and I am eternally grateful to the team over at the VR Lab for this opportunity.  Below is a gallery of additional pictures from our visit.

  • From left to right: Kevin Olson, Eric Liga, William Golden, James Mireles

 

Consumer VR Is Here!

With the recent launches of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift consumer headsets, desktop Virtual Reality is finally upon us. This is the beginning of an era for this amazing technology. Expect to see many incredible experiences and startups popping up soon. It’s an exciting time to be alive.

My Week With the HTC Vive Pre

I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an HTC Vive Pre for the last week and have noticed a few things, good and bad, that I would like to mention.

The Bad

First and foremost is sweat. For whatever reason the Vive Pre is HOT! In the traditional temperature sense of course. The headset causes everyone I have demoed it for to sweat pretty profusely. If left unchecked this can lead to a very unpleasant wet foam padding for the next user. There are a couple of solutions though. The people over at VRCover.com make an HTC Vive Pre Waterproof Cover for “demo and sports”. This is an absolute must in my book when it comes to the Pre. Even if you aren’t going to be showing it off it is still uncomfortable to have a soggy headset on your face. The alternative I have found is to take a piece of paper towel and place it where the section of foam meets your forehead. This absorbs your sweat as it occurs and prevents the issue mentioned above.
Second, though the Room Scale tracking is touted a lot these days as revolutionary, and I agree it is something to be experienced, it does present some problems that many others have written about, space. I first set up the system in my living room after moving my coffee table off to the side and freeing up what I though was an adequate space. I have heard of successful setups as small as 8 ft by 4 ft. My space was 10 ft by 6 ft and I had trouble getting a acceptable space according to the room scale setup tutorial. I ended up having to fudge things a bit by tracing the space occupied by my coffee table as ‘empty space’ which caused problems in game later. I later moved the coffee table giving me a space of 10 ft by 8 ft. Another related trouble I discovered was the overhead space. As many people do, I have a ceiling fan in my living room. This presented a danger during experiences as I was constantly afraid to raise my arms above my head for fear of smashing the controllers into the fan or light. This may not be as large a concern for people with high ceilings or who rely on standing/table lamps for light in their rooms. If possible choose a room with a space that is completely clear from ceiling to floor.
Tracking setup is my final grievance. If you are using permanent mounting hardware then this is less of a concern but for a mobile setup that can be taken to expos, meetups, or exhibits additional equipment is a must. I utilized some speaker stands recommended on the HTC Vive Subreddit for my purposes which worked well.

The Good

Room Scale is great! The ability to simply walk around an environment, limited though it may be, is incredible. One of my favorite examples of this was when I recently showed someone new to VR the Vive. I put them in WEVR’s theBlu’ and her first question was “How do I move?”. Once I told her she could just walk around she was blown away. It did not occur to her that she didn’t need to use a touch pad or joystick to move in this experience.
Controller tracking is spot on. The pinpoint tracking of the controllers really sells you on the presence of your hands in game. You don’t feel disconnected and in cases like Owlchemy Labs’ Job Simulator demo you may even forget the cartoony glove hands aren’t your hands.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of the challenges faced with the Vive Pre it is exciting that VR has advanced to this level. I am waiting with bated breath for the full consumer release of this headset as well as the Oculus Rift and Oculus Touch controllers. It is a fun time to be alive and in the VR scene.

ITC Members Demoed VR for Young Kids Interested in STEM Careers

This past Saturday (March 12th 2016) fellow event manager Kevin Olson and I were asked to give a brief presentation about Virtual Reality at a youth community event here in Houston TX as part of the STEM focus section of the day. We presented to roughly 130 children, organizers, and guardians about this new resurgence of VR, what type of jobs are available and what skills one should study to work in this field in the future.

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Kevin Olson (left) and William Golden (right) giving a VR 101 Presentation. Photo credit to Jackie Johnson

 

Of course, with Virtual Reality, talking about it is one thing but you have to experience it to truly understand. So we set up two demo stations with Oculus Rift DK2s (one with a LEAP Motion controller) and let everyone give it a shot.

 

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Kevin Olson (left) and William Golden (center) showing off Virtual Reality to attendees of the event. Photo credit to Jackie Johnson

 

All the kids were impressed with how real VR feels when you put on the headset. Parents, organizers, and kids alike all seemed to really enjoy the experiences we put them in. We were showing the following:

 

  • Blocks (LEAP)
  • Castle Coaster
  • Neuro
  • PinchDraw  (LEAP)
  • Return to Dinosaur Island
  • WarlockVR (LEAP)

Many people opted out of the Coaster after watching other’s reactions as well. Lots of screams and laughs were had and it was a good time all around. We shared some information about VR and what fields are useful for future VR developers with a few inquisitive attendees as well. Our thanks go out to Jackie Johnson for giving us the opportunity to hopefully have inspired some kids to go into VR related fields. By the time they are developing for this technology it could be significantly more advanced than what they saw this weekend.

ITC partners with the University of Houston Department of Computer Science

The Immersive Technology Conference is proud to announce that we have partnered with the University of Houston’s Computer Science Department for our inaugural event November 14th through 16th 2016. We will be working closely with Dr. Chang Yun and Dr. Jaspal Subhlok in the time leading up to this event to involve the students and faculty of this department wherever possible.

 

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