3D Cameras will make Virtual Worlds Easier to Use?
At the Metaverse Roadmap meeting, Feb 15th, in Stanford, California, Mitch Kapor, the founder of Lotus 1-2-3, and primary investment backer in Second Life, announced plans for a new mainstream VR interface, which he is backing.
"I'm obsessed with what's going to make these things easier to use," Kapor said, his face lit with excitement. "I think a piece of hardware is involved."
His idea is not a new one; in fact it has been a staple of cyberpunk for quite some time.
The idea Mitch Kapor suggested was to use a 3D camera array. Dissimilar to the 3D cameras used to provide QuickTime VR experiences, these would involve a bank of cameras focussed on one point in space - the space the user occupies.
These cameras form an input device, in conjunction with your body. They triangulate, to a degree not possible with a 2D device like eye-toy, the precise position of parts of your body as you move them, able to filter out background movement, which does not show up in all cameras.
Thus, to raise your avatar's hand, simply lift up your own. To nod your avatar's head, simply nod your own.
He stated that the today's graphical user interface standard input, a mouse and keyboard, don't really make that much sense, (no arguing with that) but that [most] people don't question it because there's no alternative.
But he pointed to the futuristic graphical display made famous in Steven Spielberg's Minority Report that allowed Tom Cruise's character to move information around on a screen with his hands.
"Look at Minority Report," Kapor said. "I'm here to say that [technology is] going to be real in the next [few] years."
He predicted that 3D cameras, which would be built into computers much like regular 2D cameras are today, will be available in as little as 12 months.
Kapor said he wasn't clear on what the interface would be like, but he suggested it could be based on something like that of the Segway, in which users move their body forward and the Segway goes forward, backward to go backward, and so forth.
"So, if I look to the left in the real world, I just want my avatar to look to the left," Kapor said. "If I smile, I just want my avatar to smile. The cameras should be good enough to pick that up. I think we're going to see an amazing jump in the sense of presence."
Another experiential improvement the cameras could offer, he said, could be a better way to edit 3D objects.
"It's going to change how editing is done in 3D worlds," he said, "if you can reach in and grab the handles of an object and pull them out with your hands and extend or change the shape of the object."
To demonstrate the value of the cameras, Kapor said he has a prototype already and is planning, within a few months, to start putting up a series of videos shot with it onto YouTube.
So, will a 3D camera system make virtual worlds easier to use?
Well, the answer is, as it has to be, Yes, for a segment. That segment may well be the largest segment, at least of several potential markets, but its not the only segment.
It is a decisive step forwards if it can be pulled off well, but it is important that we never concentrate on just one possible interface method. Different physical circumstances should be kept in mind, lest we remove the greatest asset VR offers - a way to remove that which is otherwise beyond your control.