Jeri Ellsworth hasn't been sitting idle since Valve let her go.
Jeri Ellsworth, the engineer Valve let go back in February, has been spending her time making new VR technology; glasses that, Ellsworth says, will "do everything Oculus can do, and more." Well, not everything; for starters, Ellsworth's glasses won't induce motion sickness, something the Oculus has had difficulty with. But that's just part of it. Ellsworth and her Technical Illusions partner Rick Johnson want this technology to bridge the physical with the virtual world, and if things pan out as they describe, it might be about to happen.
The elimination of motion sickness is thanks in part to the retro-reflective screen, used in combination with the AR system mounted on your glasses. It's a pretty comfortable way of dealing with VR, since you're focusing on something that's set a manageable distance away. "We have a very accurate head tracker that allows us to generate one to one graphics," says Ellsworth, "and the user can see the real world at anytime or during use," something that someone boxed into the Oculus won't be able to do. So far, during thousands of trade show demonstrations held over the last year, not one person has complained of sickness, according to Ellsworth.
The device itself is lightweight, less than 100g, and clips right onto your prescription glasses, should you need them to. Plus the whole package, AR plus reflective surface, is pricing at $189 at the moment, with a potential price drop if demand is high. The reflective surface is relatively cheap - not much more expensive than wallpaper - leading to the inevitable speculation that some purchasers will cover whole rooms in the stuff. Holodeck technology? Well, not quite ... but it's as close as you might see in the near future, if not your lifetime.
How to use it? Well, one of its biggest advantages is that you can see the real world as well as the virtual while using the technology, an aspect which lends itself to social games. "If you do something vicious to your opponent across the table you can see his expressions and look at him and stare him straight down the face," says Johnson. "You can stand next to each other and become a little more physical as you're playing games." Or not; you could as easily be playing two completely separate games, while standing side by side.
It's a pity Valve didn't pick up on this. "Valve is an interesting place with not great communication sometimes," Ellsworth says. "There was a lot of misunderstandings about what we were trying to do." The fact that it needed a special surface to work boggled Valve's people, and they couldn't believe Ellsworth could make the tech do what she said it could do. "So it just didn't get much traction," says she. "It just wasn't highly valued, I guess." Valve's loss is Technical Illusions' gain, and possibly our gain as well; the Kickstarter Technical Illusions set up to fund all this magic has already reached its $400,000 funding goal, and surpassed it by a substantial margin. It's still going strong with 14 days on the clock, so if you want to know more, better head over here.