Gaze Activation: VR Fundamentals
Virtual and Augmented Reality applications are rapidly becoming more and more integrated into our daily lives, though many of their ultimate uses down the road have not been realized, or at least, have not been developed yet. Some of this is due to limitations of technology, the lack of infrastructure that would allow for AR devices to leverage the power of established 3D area scanners, and a severe lack of processing power and screen resolution of VR Head-Mounted Displays (HMDs). Technological limitations aside, there is still much to learn about these new technologies, which can help prepare us for a time when the limitations no longer exist.
One of the main issues with Virtual Reality is understanding how to make navigation user friendly through a completely virtual world, especially when many users, like the testers of a previous VR experience I created, have no gaming experience. The first configuration that I had worked with was the XBOX One controller, which technically worked, but would never be acceptable for a VR experience intended for consumers of many different demographics.
Even after switching to a WASD and mouse configuration, testers who have been using computers for decades just couldn’t operate the controls properly. In fact, one aspect of the WASD configuration that I had not taken into account was the lack of visibility, which caused people to unknowingly shift the placement of their fingers, leading to incorrect button presses. Now, the WASD configuration is great for any gamers, who have established muscle memory over years of gameplay, and can easily reorient themselves to the correct keys without taking off the HMD every twenty seconds.
Gaze Activation and Teleportation
In order to meet the needs of the general population, for a VR experience intended for all users, I decided to look into Gaze Activation and Teleportation. Assuming that I had the ability to develop such a system, I would eliminate one of the major user frustrations, and could make the experience universally available, without the need of controllers, or hands really. The idea behind Gaze Activation is that users have the ability to activate something, when they look at it for long enough. In order to know how long they have to look at an item to activate it, a cursor with a loading bar is added in. Naturally, any items that are intended to act as an activation point should stand out visibly as well.
The science behind this form of activation is relatively simple, but can be tricky to implement properly. Essentially, a beam, or line trace, is emitted from the center of the camera lens, which reports data back on any mesh it touches in a level. Certain items, which are intended to be activate-able, are added into an array and will perform a task if the beam maintains contact with the item in question for a specified period of time. Any items that are not added into the array (the majority of items) will have no effect. As mentioned previously, the beam can be visible or invisible, though I usually choose to hide it, and create my own cursor.
I made a quick, and cheesy, example of how this works. The picture to the left shows one item highlighted in blue, while the others are highlighted in orange. Assuming that the objects to activate stand out, like the blue object, users understand that selecting it may cause something to happen. When the beam hits the other items in the scene, nothing happens. However, when the beam hits the blue object for a specified period of time, an action is called.
Gaze activation also eliminates another major problem caused by VR, motion sickness. We all have different levels of tolerance to motion sickness, which is amplified in a virtual world when the movements of the camera do not match the actual movements in reality. Gaze activation transports users to different locations without any visible movement from Point A to Point B. Users don’t experience any acceleration, or movement, they just appear where they need to be. In the virtual world I created, I designed simplified portals that existed at the base of the floor, and then rose up in a column. Due to their design, which included a somewhat electrified portal or beam, and their location to important areas within the world, users were enticed to look at them, and were able to quickly learn what these portals were intended for.
Below I have added a picture of what two of the portals looked like.
In future posts, I will add more examples showing off more VR.