Microsoft reveals its DreamWalker VR rig that lets users explore a virtual world while walking around in real life

  • The project would allow people to stay in VR even when they leave the house
  • DreamWalker lets people imagine they’re in a different environment as they walk
  • The technology uses arrows and pellet trails to guide users past obstacles

It’s hard to imagine walking being any simpler: Move one foot forward, then the other, and repeat.

Researchers at Microsoft have been investigating new ways to improve the walking experience using VR googles and a computer powered backpack. 

DreamWalker, the new project from Microsoft Research, sends users wearing out of their homes wearing virtual reality headsets that give them information about the environment they’re walking through.

DreamWalker (pictured above) is a new project from Microsoft Research that lets users stay in VR when they leave home

DreamWalker (pictured above) is a new project from Microsoft Research that lets users stay in VR when they leave home

Using RGB depth cameras, geolocation data, and other positioning technology, Dreamwalker creates a live 3D simulation of the world around you and visualizes obstacles like light poles, planter boxes, and other oncoming pedestrians, which DreamWalker flags as ‘dynamic obstacle (person).’

The project was presented as part of the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology in New Orleans.

According to a report from ArsTechnica, the technology grew out of an earlier project that attempted to visualize environmental obstacles for users in indoor environments. 

DreamWalker has a system for recognizing different categories of environmental obstacles

DreamWalker has a system for recognizing different categories of environmental obstacles

Inside the VR headset users could be given the impression that they're anywhere, including a busy city sidewalk, even when they're on a tranquil corporate campus

Inside the VR headset users could be given the impression that they’re anywhere, including a busy city sidewalk, even when they’re on a tranquil corporate campus

DreamWalker uses cameras, GPS, and other tools to depict upcoming obstacles inside the VR headset

DreamWalker uses cameras, GPS, and other tools to depict upcoming obstacles inside the VR headset

The motivation for the project came from trying to imagine a future world where users could ‘stay fully immersed inside large virtual environments’ even when out in public.  

DreamWalker also has the option to blend in soundtracks to enhance the impression of being in a simulated space instead of a real one.

In a video demonstration, DreamWalker uses a generic city sidewalk setting as its test subjects walk across a corporate campus.

The tool can guide the users with a number of different visual cues, like a large yellow arrow pointing in the safest direction to walk, a long trail of Pac-Man style pellets that lead through potential hurdles, or small orange traffic cones that indicate potential obstacles.

WHAT IS VIRTUAL REALITY?

Virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation of an environment or situation. 

  • It immerses the user by making them feel like they are in the simulated reality throughimages and sounds
  • For example, in VR, you could feel like you’re climbing a mountain while sat at home 

Virtual reality is the term used to describe A three-dimensional, computer generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person. 

That person becomes part of this virtual world or is immersed within this environment and whilst there, is able to manipulate objects or perform a series of actions.

How is virtual reality achieved? 

Virtual reality is usually implemented using computer technology. There are a range of systems that are used for this purpose, such as headsets, omni-directional treadmills and special gloves. 

These are used to actually stimulate our senses together in order to create the illusion of reality. 

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