1 INPUT "Step 1 " ;
Chapter 1: Laying the foundation
September 16. 2018
As I begin this blog I would first like to share my purpose and how I got here. This blog is an externalization of everything that goes on in my mind as I explore the world of virtual reality both as a user and a designer. My goal is that with writing out my thoughts and findings in an organized chronological form, I may be able to reflect and review them as I progress in my thesis.
Just like how vast the world of information is today, I cannot in my limited capacity constrain all this information in my memory but like how all subject experts develop, I will try. (I am in no fashion close to being a subject expert on VR at this point) I have always been fascinated with computers when I was growing up, a term used so much in the 90s which by today’s standards would mean “interest lies in tech”. I am positive that like many words, they take on different meanings depending in which frame or era you look at it. I recall a class when my professor was showing me a slide, a photo of a group of ladies which he titled “The first computers”. That was how it all began, a group of mathematician ladies that sole purpose in their job was to make computations.
Well, computers have come a long way, even since the 90s when I first started using one. I was fortunate to be able to use either a windows 3.1 or a windows NT system. It was on a bulky laptop which I remember needed an expansion card with other adapter cables just to connect a CD-Rom drive so I could play music CDs. Considering I was only about 5 or 6, that was as much as I could do plus my one favorite game Math Blaster 2 with the Blaster pals! Games themselves have changed drastically and even more so realistically. It is funny how back when I played games in the early 2000s, I thought to myself how much real they look and looking back now everything looks like a joke in comparison. Virtual reality is the current step in the next level in realism and its use can range from games to other to entertainment, military and so many others. What interests me most is its applications to design and by extension design education. Which brings me to this point, exploring a thesis centered around design and Virtual reality.
"Supposing is good, but finding out is better."
A NEW REALITY...
Chapter 2: The humble beginnings of VR & how it has transformed.
September 23. 2018
1985 NASA Space Virtual Reality simulation
2017 Xiaomi Play VR 2 portable headset
Where it all began
VR is the acronym for Virtual reality. Today VR is no longer an alien term instead it is starting to sprout in many homes around the developed world. It can be as simple as a headset which you slide your smartphone into or the more expensive setups that require a powerful computer for processing. (some may argue that it is relatively cheap now, but I will cover that in next week’s post) How this is happening can be attributed to the current advancement of technology, which have created suitable platforms for VR to build upon from better infrastructure for connectivity to small pieces of equipment that do not require giant spaces.The biggest push is the interest from big brand players especially in the gaming industry that has ignited a new hype within the masses.
VR however is not something new, in fact the term started making its appearances as early as the 1950s, when virtual held the meaning of something illusionary rather than being physical. The term Virtual Reality itself has been traced back to the 1930s in France where it sprouted from the performance and theatre sphere. Since then the term has been constantly evolving through time, taking on a different meaning in the different eras of technology. Virtual reality meant the digital cyber world when computers first came on the scene.
BenQ 3D stereoscopic 3D glasses.
3D based environments quickly assumed the VR tittle, this started off from 3D graphics then to models and further on to 3D visuals that “came out” from the screen. This was the stereoscopic generation where 3D movies and games blossomed but only momentarily. The hyped died out and the VR became something rarely used but a growing platform was booming that allowed for VR to creep back in the hype cycle. The platform is none other than the pocket device, smartphone which included gyroscopes and motion sensors. Together with a decent enough screen resolution and an adequate processor, designers managed to bring about a new generation of Virtual Reality environments.
The Virtual Reality we know today is defined by a full immersive experience that brings to user into another reality. This includes movement, sights and sounds with efforts exploring touch and scent. With mediums such as 360 photo and video, increasing resolutions to match 1:1 human vision, more powerful processing power getting small and more compact; VR has a potential to grow and in time change the reality we live in.
"In the past, before phones and the Internet, all communication was face-to-face. Now, most of it is digital, via emails and messaging services. If people were to start using virtual reality, it would almost come full circle."
Palmer Luckey (founder of Oculus)
I need to try this.
Chapter 3: The poor person's VR set-up
September 30. 2018
So for this week's post, I decided to do a small budget setup to test my hands on some VR before diving into the more pricey stuff. As I have mentioned last week, some people consider VR gear to be relatively cheap. I prefer the word affordable but that comes with its caveats, a VR headset system itself ranges around $300 to $500. The issue is that the headsets on their own aren't capable of anything without a computer to process the environment. Not just any computer but one that is VR-ready, which means it should run a GTX970 at bare minimum, of course a better graphics processing unit would mean a better experience. This part of the equation goes into the range of more than a $1000.
That being said, it is still possible to keep yourself within a budget and experience some VR on a budget. For this I turned my sights to the online market, specifically ebay. After reading a couple of reviews, I made my decision and purchased a Pansonite Virtual Reality Glasses headset that had a headset integrated. I also placed a bid for a leap motion controller which I could use in-lieu of physical controllers.
My reading led me to some online forums where people have had success combining a mobile phone with the leap to play some VR games. They utilized a streaming software, riftcat, which tricks the computer into thinking that your smartphone is a VR headset. The process is not as easy as it seems and I have got each device to work independently but have yet to make a leap motion demo work through riftcat. I guess I have to keep trying and one point that made this all more challenging is that riftcat now charges for more than a 10min usage. I'll test around and see what I get, till next week!
"There is no failure except in no longer trying."
It gets better.
Chapter 4: Exploring the Vive?
October 14. 2018
In my quest to get my hands onto VR which is a relatively new thing to me, I started swimming through the many sites and places where people would sell their used things. What I found was tons of "gears" google cardboard like devices for you to slip your smartphone on and view some very simple VR content. Similar to what I covered in my last post. What I needed was a powerful enough computer first then I could start worrying about getting my hands on a VR system. I finally found a decent gaming desktop and managed to bargain with the seller and as fate had installed for me... the seller gave me his HTC Vive complete set as part of the deal. In total I got myself a tower desktop that was equipped with a GTX 1070, a decent enough 4.0ghz i7 proceesor and 16GB of ram, 2 SSDs and 2 HDDs. All for only slight more than half a grand.
This will change everything about VR for me, being able to explore and use an actual top tier headset. I guess I can say goodbye to the android phone riftcat idea for now till (Maybe I will sell away that headset, I do not need it anymore). There is one downside to this whole "free vive", the cables were chewed up by the owner's dog and most of them seem to be in pretty bad condition with non-shielded wires sticking out. I should not get too excited and it seems the data sync cable is missing. So for this week I decided not to touch the Vive yet and start doing some research into what are the components of the Vive and how it works. I need to start from scratch and search for how to set it up, there were no instruction manuals included.
What I do know from my limited knowledge is that the Vive and many virtual reality applications require at least a 970GTX and that the Vive has two lenses which are 1,080x1,200 AMOLED Samsung displays and they run at 90hz. This refresh rate is the closest to the normal human eye and thus was what HTC chose. I also found out through my limited research that the Vive has a Pro version! Something I had not known prior and it has a much better display, a dual front camera that can be utlized for AR and also included audio headphones and a more sturdy adjustable head strap. For now let me play with what I have and till next week.
"What the computer in virtual reality enables us to do is to re-calibrate ourselves so that we can start seeing those pieces of information that are invisible to us but have become important for us to understand."
Look into the map.
Chapter 5: Vr + ? = Research Thesis
October 21. 2018
Lost is the ease in which one can be set in if they immerse themselves in work. Classes are starting to get busier which also pushes me more into the zone of figuring out what I want to do for my research thesis. More specifically what I want to use Virtual Reality to research. I started sketch-exploring some ideas in a mind-map and I have seen some VR applications that would really tie into my undergraduate major of industrial design. There are a handful of challenges faced by industrial designers which solutions can be improved by utilizing VR just like how Architecture and interior spaces are using VR as a new tool for design.
Personally I have always felt that sketching and visualizing an object in 3D has been a challenge for me. That is why I always enjoyed CAD modeling more and sticking to simple less complicated designs. I felt it a challenge that my sketches were something in orthographic views and I wanted to translate them in better perspective but my imagination and thoughts never came out the same in the sketches. What if I had a tool that would allow me the freedom to draw in a 3D space like how splines would work in 3D cad and then being able to rotate the planes and manipulate the sketch. Then I found this application which the company keeps proprietary. Maybe I can get my hands on this and use it as a research study on how it improves the design process, especially in the initial ideating and prototyping phase.
"Virtual reality sort of encloses and immerses the person into an experience that can be really cool but probably has a lower commercial interest over time. Less people will be interested in that, but there are some really cool areas there for education and gaming that we have a lot of interest in."
Do you feel the Vive?
Chapter 6: Finally getting to the viving!
October 28. 2018
Now that I have just a little bit of extra time but also because I really need to see if this free Vive works, I decided that I would dedicate my whole weekend to fixing and setting it up (yes it took that long). I will share bits and pieces of this process, from the time I decided to research the specifications for the vive power adapters to my setup.
So as you can see here the power adapter to the HTC Vive's base stations was totally bitten off by the previous owner's dog (Thank you for giving it to me for free though). Both adapters were bitten up but I managed to make one work by the magic of some electrical tape, but now the second one had no room for me to work my magic because there was not enough cord left to solder unless I dremel into the adapter's housing itself. I started to look for the specs, all it needed was a 12v 2A adapter with a 5.5mm x 2.1-2.5mm head size. The reason why I had to look for the specs because everything I searched for "HTC VIVE base station power adapter" the results would show 3rd party to used adapters ranging from the cheapest $19 up to $50! That is ridiculously expensive so I did my best to search around and found it. Two separate purchases that would make me a new power adapter.
A cheap $5 Ac adapter + a $3 extension cable.
Once I tested and got that working it was about progressing to the set up. Then it hit me that I did not have a way or any idea how I wanted to set up my base stations. I ended up opening my closest and looking for something I could use. With some imagination or what I call design thinking, I did it! My first vive setup, using a camera tripod and a bar stool and for the other a selfie stick and spring clamp. What I didn't know was that I had to position them just right without any obstruction, so after moving furniture around and getting the right angle I got my vive ready to start exploring apps but the question was what apps? So it was back to google and searching for the software but that should be a story reserved for another post someday. What I should say was that I ended up spending a whole other day just exploring the many different VR apps and I was like a kid who had just entered a new fantasy world.
"When people ask whether virtual reality will be a real thing or just the next 3D, what I always say is, 'Take a headset, walk outside, and the next person you meet, put it on them and see what the reaction is."
Time for a checkup!
Chapter 7: Medical Virtual Reality?
November 4. 2018
So there I was sitting down in the front row of a talk by Dj Patel and he said something that really struck me. "If you were to do invest your time in developing something, make sure it benefits as many people as possible". In the back of my mind the few topics about what I wanted to focus on for my research thesis playing on and on like a tape recorder " Prototyping, industrial design, learning, teaching, healthcare and medical..." Then I remember always seeing that medical was something that kept appearing in virtual reality searches. Suddenly it all hit me and that the answer to my question was there all along, Medical VR, that shall be my research focus! Someone has to be there researching and making sure that the power of VR was used for good and someone had to make sure that the design of which was effective. That someone could be me!
There is so much potential and help that VR can have for the medical community. Medical students and even current practitioners are in a profession where it is not easy to train on most scenarios. Like in the case of an actual emergency, it is difficult for educators to be able to have such a scene with actors all the time. Furthermore people in this line of work have very difficult to sync schedules and resources are limited for every student to be able to go through similar task repetitively.
Doctors also need near realistic scenarios when they can do the "impossible" like practice cutting someone's artery open. This is where the magic powers of VR come to play. It can be a tool used in multiple different settings and tweaked and designed in a versatile manner, that is why it is essential for a user experience designer to study and make it as successful of an experience so that the intended purpose such as learning is accomplished. My research and talks with people in the field led me to find out that many medical products require strict testing and documentation of the usage of the device before they get approved. This is where companies are finding ways to demonstrate the capabilities of such products with the least amount of liability, leading to some turning its focus to VR. The more I dug into this topic the more DJ Patel's words echoed in my head and I knew this was what I wanted to do.
"We will all have superpowers. Because in virtual reality you can be anyone, you can go anywhere, and you can create anything."
United we stand
Chapter 8: Unity my new friend
November 11. 2018
One of the most important things to note as a designer is the way things work and how to use your understanding to make connections. This happened to me when I started trying out different virtual reality programs. The design mind of mine was craving to find out, how does this actually work or how did they manage to do this. Being a grad student at OSU design school meant having a great accessibility to Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design or ACCAD as we call it. This is that one special secret place tugged in a very nice corner on campus where amazing and really cool things are being made. Just check out this very cool hallway before you enter ACCAD. A bunch of Disney and Pixar posters, you know this place means business.
It is also one of the place where I spent some time talking to various Professors and individuals who are masters at their own craft. Interesting research directions and I realized that everyone I went to mentioned a program name whenever I were to asked about making something in Virtual Reality. Unity was its name, and so I continued to explore this one software which was almost free in every way but had tons of tutorials online. It was almost like they were giving off free money to people who would just invest the time in it.
Alas not everything was free and my previous assignment in a class I took that allowed me to explore VR as an emerging tech only demonstrated how little I knew but how much more potential this application had. So I went onto this website called udemy and downloaded a whole VR/unity/coding class and put myself though it to start understanding the mechanics and getting the know how. This slowly gave me more confidence and I knew I wanted to try making a UX test in VR by the end of the semester. With any new skill and knowledge the key was to keep trying and practicing till you get a hang of it.
"Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself."
Chapter 9: Hitting the Virtual Wall
November 18. 2018
I took the plunge and tried designing a simple VR game with simple mechanics from my weekly tutorials. What happened after I demoed the game and let other people try it was bad. It pushed me so far back into a dark spot that I felt that I no longer want to do anything related to VR or that I may have chosen a technology way too quickly. Well let me paint you the picture...
Me: Hi guys, I designed a VR game. It is really easy to play. Just look in front, press the trigger to pick up the projectiles and throw them at the baddies coming you way. Who wants to go first?
Classmate 1: me, me, me! .........
A minute later ....
Classmate 1: OMG ... uh... What do I do? I can't see! This is so difficult.
Me: Okay ..... who wants to go next?
Classmate 2: I'll go!
*tries putting on VR headset, takes a long time even with assistance*
Game starts ------- everything goes wrong, yet... again.
My world suddenly started spiraling down and I had what I thought was a glimpse of my first actual VR test for my thesis. This was a disaster and after having a discussion with my professor, Matt Lewis, he recommended me a book "Designing Gestural Interfaces: Touchscreens and Interactive Devices" by Dan Saffer. I started reading the part about prototyping and the many challenges faced and slowly as I continued I realized that the obstacles I face are nothing but normal and I was reminded again of being a designer. Going into low points only to learn from it, make iterations and improve! It was then and there that I realized that VR is not gonna be perfect because it is not and the only reason why I am doing research in it was because it is still growing. Then in a moment of epiphany the frustration suddenly became my source of joy because it was the reason why I am even doing my research!
"The good news is that virtual reality is here. The bad news is that something is still missing."
Ready player one.
Chapter 10: Welcome masterbuilder
December 2. 2018
Have you seen the two movies I referenced in today's post, well one is set in a distance future where people live their lives in Virtual reality, hiding behind avatars and doing basically anything in this second world. Interesting the movie is set in Columbus Ohio which is where I live but there seems to be not a big craze over VR here. The next reference comes from the lego movie where masterbuilders are basically characters in the movie that have ability to create and manipulate their environment. That is how I feel when I started exploring NeosVR a creator's VR multiworld where users from all over can come and create, interact and share. This candid video is an example on how I feel a world would be like when those two references are combined.
After the last hiccup from my last post, I have been super busy (progressing into finals week for the semester) I feel confident enough to start entering such make spaces to learn and share with others. After all I do have to immerse myself in this new virtual reality. I plan to maybe continue my plan on creating a UX test environment from all the things I have learned over the semester or should I just try using NeosVR? Well maybe I will explore if for another class and leave it as that. I want to showcase more of the culmination on what I have done throughout the semester and have a trial on how my research would be like. For now its back to the busy finals and projects, diving into THAT REALITY.
"It turns out that the killer application for virtual reality is other human beings. Build a world that people want to inhabit, and the inhabitants will come."