Virtual reality (VR) has been getting pretty mind-blowing over the past few years, with even commercially available headsets providing some insanely convincing VR experiences. Now, researchers are experimenting with the idea of breaking down the fourth wall and allowing interaction between the computer-generated reality and our more familiar reality.
Disney Research lab has developed a particularly cool extension of this that allows users to catch a real ball while they're wearing a VR headset and fully immersed in a computer-generated world. The user, therefore, can’t actually see the real ball at all and is instead reacting to its projection as a virtual ball. Neat stuff.
"Catching and feeling the real ball in your hand makes VR much richer, more believable, more exciting, more interactive, more dynamic, more real," Günter Niemeyer, senior research scientist, said in a statement.
For this to all come together, it requires a lot of work in motion prediction (as well as some basic hand-eye-coordination from the catcher). They toyed around with some different scenarios to see which worked best. One involved a rendering of the ball's position in real time as it flew through the air, much like you would experience in the real world. Another predicted the end target of the ball throw so the catcher knew where to place their hands for the catch. The final one simply mapped out the trajectory of the ball in real-time.
All three visualization types were fairly successful, ensuring a 95 percent accurate catch-rate. However, the user's “catching strategy” changed when only the target location was identified, as their hands reached the location much earlier than the ball.
Disney have not explicitly said what their plans for this VR development will be, although they did express that it could hold awesome potential for the games industry.
"With VR, we can show you the future by pre-rendering where the ball is going to be," Niemeyer added. "For some types of interactions, game designers might choose to take advantage of VR to make certain tasks easier, just as using a net to catch balls might make some games more enjoyable."
You can get a deeper look at the technical side of the work in their research paper here (PDF).