Google Tango project turns real-world rooms into VR havens

Researchers at MIT’s Fluid Interfaces Group have developed an app capable of procedurally generating virtual spaces, based on 3D scans of real-world spaces using Google’s Project Tango.

Cue opening of dystopian novel. A man walks down the hallway of the abandoned hospital he has been squatting in since the downfall of Western civilisation. There are rat droppings in the corner, and the walls are sticky with bodily fluids, but instead of this abject squalor, the man’s VR headset shows him a field of prancing deer.

As you can see from the above video, things aren’t all that grim. The Oasis project uses Google’s augmented-reality Tango platform to scan a local environment, and then transform this 3D map into a procedurally generated VR world.

The idea is that you scan a room or a portion of corridor using a Tango-powered phone. The layout of the space’s floor and walls are then used as the basis for a virtual environment, which can be viewed by putting the same phone into a VR headset.

So far the researchers have made four environments: the aforementioned bucolic paradise; an island surrounded by shipwrecks; a hellish lava flow; and a metallic platform floating in space. As well as walls, furniture can apparently be visualised as rocks or ponds, so you don’t trip up over your own sofa.

According to UploadVR, chairs can also be scanned in real-time, so they can be factored into the virtual space. You’d need to have strong faith in the system not to make a minor mistake when positioning the VR chair, but if you’re looking for a chance to sit down in the middle of a deserted island, the app has you covered.vr_oasis

As well as providing a virtual means of escape, the makers of the app hint at Oasis’ potential to be used to create new forms of storytelling: “Oasis can be used, for example, to create story spaces where friends and family can remotely participate in a session of storytelling around the campfire,” the project’s description reads.

“The freedom to move around and interact with the virtual world allows for a new form of storytelling when combined with traditional narration techniques like vocalisation, movement and gestures. We call this human-in-the-loop-storytelling, distinguishing it from current VR storytelling experiences where the software system is the storyteller.”

It’s not clear how multiple users would remotely participate in shared sessions – or that they would even want to, given how much emphasis the project places on location-specific spaces – but Oasis does hint at a future for VR where physical and digital objects are combined. Creative studio Marshmallow Laser Feast, for example, recently used this overlap between VR and real-world set design in its Treehugger: Wawona installation.

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