Intelligent Machines

Real-World Virtual Reality

The technology is being used in engineering, design, and moviemaking.

Virtual reality (VR) products are now commonly used by many car and aeronautics companies, often to test product designs and simulate user interaction. VR head-mounted displays–from inside a user sees a 3-D environment–are also used in flight simulators. And custom-made VR devices are used for medical training and to help with patient recovery. The latest VR products were on display this week’s at the IEEE’s Virtual Reality 2010 conference in Waltham, MA.

Sensics, based in Columbia, MD, demonstrated a head-mounted display that provides a wider field of view for the wearer. Sensics’s latest product, XSight, uses six displays to show a large, compound image to each eye. Larry Brown, president and founder of the company, says XSight, which costs $45,000 to $50,000, is mainly used by academics and engineers, and in military training.

Motion Analysis showed off its motion-tracking technology, used to help develop the motion-tracking technology behind the 3-D movie Avatar. The suit is covered with markers that emit light to special near-infrared cameras arranged around the wearer. The cameras create a computerized skeletal model that the system can then map to the virtual avatar. The user can also wear a 3-D head-mounted display to see her own virtual hands move in real-time in front of her in the virtual world, to an accuracy of around a millimeter. John Francis, VP of industrial and military sales at Motion Analysis, says the system lets an engineer explore a virtual model of an aircraft fighter. He adds that the technology is used in a number of military projects, as well as in medical, industrial, and animation settings. Last month, the company introduced a version of the technology for outdoor use.

Another company, CyberGlove, demoed a glove that captures and translates a user’s finger movements with high precision. Users can interact with virtual objects in real-time in a natural way, says Nemer Velasquez, director of sales and marketing for the company. The glove is currently being used for training, defense, and engineering.

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