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Thinking outside the (cardboard) box

With their endless applications, smartphones keep users connected to the real world. But researchers from the Mixed Reality (MxR) Lab at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) are developing ways to use these ubiquitous devices to transport people to virtual worlds as well.

At the IEEE Virtual Reality conference running March 4-8 in Orange County, the researchers handed out hundreds of manila envelopes, each containing a FOV2GO, a portable fold-out for iPhone and Android users that turns the screen into a 3-D system featuring virtual reality (VR).

Developed with researchers at the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA), the folded-paper device constructed for less than $5 is one of a growing number of do-it-yourself projects that are decreasing the hardware required for fully immersive virtual experiences. The low-cost, lightweight systems can be used to create portable applications for education, entertainment, training and health and fitness.

“I am happy to introduce the FOV2GO,” said Mark Bolas, who oversees the MxR Lab at ICT and serves as an associate professor in the Interactive Media Division at SCA.

“This conference has been the premier venue in the field of VR since its inception in 1999 and now, more than a decade later, we can put rendering, sensing and display technologies in the hands – literally – of all participants. This kit enables exploration of all facets of virtual reality, from algorithm design to perceptual psychology. We are already seeing projects that use the FOV2GO to deepen the feeling of immersion and are excited to see what else people can create with this portable-paper prototype.”

The FOV2GO is available at the ICT booth during the Virtual Reality conference. Recipients can fold the viewer, download a simple demo app and then slip the viewer into their smartphone for a portable, immersive 3-D experience. Links will be provided to software libraries to help develop immersive VR packages.

“We’re at a unique moment when all the components for creating fully immersive virtual worlds have suddenly become ubiquitous and cheap, often built into devices that we already have in our pockets and on our desktops,” said Perry Hoberman, research associate professor at SCA.

“All that’s been lacking is a kit that puts all the parts together. That’s what we’ve tried to do with FOV2GO,” he explained. “Our hope is that by making these tools available to artists and designers everywhere, we’ll see VR develop its true potential as an artistic medium.”

The project and workshop were inspired by the late computer science professor Randy Pausch’s 1991 paper “Virtual Reality on Five Dollars a Day” in which he described a virtual reality system costing $5,000 – substantially less expensive than much of the immersive technology being used at the time.

More than 20 years later, 3-D display technology is a reality.

Other devices demonstrated at the workshop include depth cameras for hand and touch interaction and fibrotactile gloves for virtual exploration.

The workshop’s keynote address by MxR lab postdoctoral researcher Evan Suma covered tools for using natural gestures and movements as opposed to traditional keyboards and mouse clicks on a computer.

Thinking outside the (cardboard) box

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