Mob Rule

Mob Rule
When Worlds Collide

Howard Wen | 12 Aug 2008 12:40
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We've focused on a stage where there's actors and virtual actors, not trying to support distributed experiences, because in Second Life the latencies make it hard to do highly interactive, distributed things. A lot of latencies in a 3-D world you don't notice. But as soon as you're overlaying it on the world, and you see how physical things are supposed to be triggering virtual things, you start noticing.

In a head-mounted display, you can tell the difference between 30 frames-per-second and 60 frames-per-second. Thirty frames-per second feels really sluggish. Many latencies and other limitations of these distributed infrastructures that you don't normally notice start being very noticeable.

I was surprised by the interest from technology companies. Lots of companies are in Second Life to hock their wares and that never really pans out. But some are there because it's this big distributive platform for collaborative work potentially. Big companies are trying to figure out how to use it as a glorified audio conferencing system. Many of them were talking to us about if AR could make that better.

TE: Your research is trying to measure the physiological response people experience in an augmented reality environment by simulating a situation where the user stands near the edge of a pit. What has your team learned so far from this experiment?

BM: The main thing we've learned is that it can be amazingly compelling, even when the graphics are not as good as you would think. From the demos and informal experiments, it works really well even without high-end graphics. When you put people in the head-mounted display and they stand next to this pit and look down and see this room straight down, even though it's relatively low resolution, some of them get freaked out. I have a fear of heights and when I stand near the edge of the pit and look down, I can feel a little bit of that sense of vertigo.

We're now running people through the experiment, varying things like the frame rate and latencies, to see when that sense of vertigo breaks.

UNC Chapel Hill did experiments in virtual reality using this pit idea, which is where we got the idea from. The thing is, when you can see the world around you, in some ways it is less scary. When I tried [their] virtual reality pit, I couldn't see the real world, but I could feel things, like the edge of this fake pit that they'd built, which made it scary because you just didn't know what you might bump into.

TE: How intense are the hardware requirements to run AR Second Life? Does it need the latest CPU or video card technology to run well? Basically, is this something that can run on a typical, affordably priced PC?

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BM: If you spend any time in Second Life, you'll notice that there's some places where the frame rate falls dramatically, even on the highest-end PC. That's annoying, but it becomes really a problem in the augmented reality world if you're using a head-mounted display: You're trying to walk around in a space where it's really jerky, slow moving, which is disconcerting.

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