2/2017

Take a walk in another world

Tampere University of Technology is the proud owner of Omnifinity’s omnidirectional virtual reality treadmill, the first of its kind in the Nordic countries. The system allows users to literally step into a virtual world. It opens up exciting new doors for research.

Omnifinity

 

The author takes a tour of a virtual art gallery with Peter Thor looking on from the real world.

 

Omnifinity’s Omnideck system is set up in the facilities of the Centre for Immersive Visual Technologies (CIVIT) in the Sähkötalo building on the TUT campus. With the exception of Omnifinity’s own laboratory in Sweden, the system is not yet found anywhere else in the Nordic countries. Omnideck features a circular platform that is a few metres wide and divided into triangular sections of rollers. A large screen runs along the edge of the platform. A virtual reality headset and two controllers are in the middle.

“Come here and stand in the middle of the platform. Let’s put the headset on, like that. Now grab the controller that you can see floating in front of you,” instructs Peter Thor from Omnifinity.

Suddenly I’ve moved beyond the confines of CIVIT’s black laboratory. With the headset on, I can see a grey wall and a long corridor.

“Walk towards my voice,” Thor says.

I take careful steps. As the treadmill moves with me, I feel as if I’m actually walking down the corridor. I take a tour of a virtual art gallery that opens up at the end of the corridor. The rollers beneath my feet allow me to move in any direction. It’s easy, once I get the hang of it. The gallery seems big, and I have to walk briskly to get to the other end. I’m looking at paintings and statues. I feel like sitting down on one of the benches to admire the scene.

“I wouldn’t recommend that. The technology is not quite up to that yet,” Peter Thor says. Everything that I see with my headset, all the others in the lab can see on a screen.

I remove the headset, and I’m back in CIVIT’s laboratory.

“Congratulations, you were our first volunteer. How did it feel?” asks Omnifinity’s Richard Guilfoyle.

Mind-boggling, thank you for asking! I could’ve stayed there longer, if I had only dared. My earlier experiences of virtual reality have mainly consisted of looking around under water or in space. While Omnideck’s virtual world may have appeared a bit game-like, the combination of a visual scene and movement ensured a fully immersive experience.

“Natural movement makes Omnideck unique. It’s second nature for people to run, walk and jump around. Our system allows them to act naturally in the virtual world,” sums up Guilfoyle.

Aiming for life-like virtual worlds

Omnifinity group

 

Richard Guilfoyle (left) and Peter Thor (right) from Omnifinity join Professor Atanas Gotchev and doctoral student Olli Suominen at CIVIT.

 

Omnideck has stirred up such a buzz on campus that CIVIT’s doors have had to stay firmly closed for the past few days. The system still needs some final tweaks.

“We’ll hold a proper opening ceremony and demos later,” promises Professor of Signal Processing Atanas Gotchev from CIVIT.

For TUT, Omnideck represents a significant investment in research on immersive visual technologies. The device is housed in CIVIT, which explores the use of new visual technologies for research purposes.

“The ultimate aim of modern visual technologies is to convincingly reproduce reality and to relay information in a natural way. Omnideck brings together visual and physical experiences and opens up whole new avenues for research,” says Gotchev.

“First we’ll launch a pilot project to determine how this technology could be best combined with our existing research materials. CIVIT has embarked on motion capture research that aims to transfer human motions into virtual environments,” says Gotchev.

Omnifinity’s representatives are eagerly awaiting what the researchers at TUT can do with their system. Omnideck was originally developed as a simulation tool to train military personnel, but it has found its way into some private companies and research organizations around the world. Omnifinity is especially interested in TUT’s motion capture research and the transfer of realistic images into a virtual world.

”TUT has world-class expertise and the facilities to conduct research in this area. I can’t wait to test our system and see my own hands and feet in a virtual world,” says Richard Guilfoyle.

New opportunities for designers and AR researchers

In addition to CIVIT’s activities, Omnideck can be used for a multitude of research purposes.

”It can support research in the areas of construction, architecture and design” lists Atanas Gotchev.

”The difference between Omnideck and conventional design software is a bit like watching Ikea’s online kitchen planner on a screen or taking a virtual walk inside the kitchen you’re designing. It’s on an entirely different scale. Designers can make all the mistakes before a single kitchen cabinet goes on the wall,” Guilfoyle describes.

In addition, augmented reality applications can be tested and developed in a virtual environment. Test subjects can walk around freely in a virtual world and interact with augmented reality. This provides important information for the development of applications that are still a long way off in our real world.

Text: Sanna Kähkönen
Photos: Mika Kanerva

 
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