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article imageFaceDisplay VR headset adds a social touch to virtual worlds

By James Walker     May 17, 2017 in Technology
A team of researchers at the Ulm University in Germany have created a virtual reality headset that could remove one of the biggest issues with rival VR systems. FaceDisplay includes exterior displays so spectators can get involved with the virtual world.
FaceDisplay is built from a modified Oculus Rift headset. The team has mounted three touchscreen displays to its outside which mirror the internal display. The result allows an audience to see what's going on. They can interact with the app by using the touchscreen.
Creating an audience
In the research paper, the team explained how current virtual reality implementations are solitary experiences. It's not possible to play games with another person in the same room. To achieve full immersion, current VR headsets rely on an enclosed experience that's exclusive to the wearer.
FaceDisplay offers a way around the issues. Bystanders can monitor what the user's seeing and provide their input by touching the display. This adds a social component to what has previously been an individual experience.
While the Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset for humans  how would this look on a cow or a chi...
While the Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset for humans, how would this look on a cow or a chicken?
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"The main goal behind FaceDisplay is to push the notion of a mobile VR HMD which is not solely designed for the user who wears it but also includes visualization and interaction concepts for people in the surrounding," the team wrote in the paper.
FaceDisplay is currently in an early prototype stage and several problems remain. Perhaps most notably, the movement of the wearer's head could make it difficult for spectators to stay fixed on the touchscreens. There are also concerns to address around physical collisions. These could occur if the wearer moves while an audience member is reaching to touch the display.
Across the virtual and augmented reality industry, significant thought is being given to creating an experience that's more social than today's closed headsets allow. To date, there haven't been any breakthrough successes but a couple of projects have attracted attention.
Alternative approaches
In February, a developer combined an HTC Vive and Microsoft HoloLens together to create "shared reality," a system that allows collaborative creation within a virtual space. Later in the same month, Microsoft unveiled its own "Spectator View," an advanced camera rig that allows spectators to watch a HoloLens wearer move around in augmented reality.
FaceDisplay heads in a different direction to these two projects. "Shared reality" aims to directly involve spectators while Spectator View is meant for pure monitoring. In comparison, FaceDisplay lies somewhere been the two, acting primarily as a viewing aid but also enabling minor interactions.
Microsoft s Spectator View Mixed Reality Capture system
Microsoft's Spectator View Mixed Reality Capture system
The team is focusing primarily on giving a wider audience a way to experience virtual reality. Giving spectators the ability to peer beneath the headset will expand the range of applications virtual reality has a presence in. It will also assist the development teams building VR products, allowing team members to monitor tests and track bugs.
"The goal of FaceDisplay is not to create an equivalent VR experience for the non-HMD [head-mounted display] user but to allow for a whole new form of experiencing VR and interacting with a VR HMD user without having to wear an own HMD," said FaceDisplay's creators.
Anticipating the future
Initiatives like FaceDisplay have the potential to fundamentally transform how virtual reality is experienced. Adding social features could transform the concept from its current status as a niche technology to a widely accepted form of entertainment and collaboration.
Throughout the history of modern technology, it has been social integrations that have led to major successes. It's currently just a prototype but FaceDisplay is another intriguing way of approaching the future of VR.
More about Virtual reality, Vr, facedisplay, mixed reality, future tech
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