Top Ten VR Highlights from CES 2017

Another year has brought another festival of the future in the form of the winter Consumer Entertainment Show. Amidst the curved televisions, 8k, Bluetooth toasters and robots that can do anything from nannying kids to playing Cards Against Humanity, VR had an important presence at CES, with a mix of interesting experiments to technological boosts that bring the ideal virtual world ever closer.

Now, CES is a gigantic event, and the coverage can often be daunting to get through. We at the Virtual Reality Society have brought together the ten biggest highlights from what turned out to be a fascinating CES for VR.

10: Cerevo Taclim VR – Kickstart your VR with Virtual Reality Shoes

The movement issue is the biggest barrier to creating truly immersive experiences in VR. Room-scale VR requires an awful lot of space and movement outside of this space in apps is often found wanting. Whilst a pair of VR shoes is not quite the solution, the haptic-based device will immerse your feet in virtual reality.

Built on haptic sensors, which are used to a limited degree to simulate buttons on smartphone screens and on the Steam Controller, the Taclim VR takes feedback to another level. The hulking shoes allow a level of haptic sensitivity that makes you feel like you are walking on different surfaces. They also allow feedback on different actions, such as moving around, bumping into objects, kicking and so on. Whilst it is probably a little dangerous in a small room-scale space to start kicking the air with a headset on, there’s a lot of potential for VR Shoes shown here. Could this be the first step towards Lawnmower Man-style VR body suits and full-body haptics?

9: Samsung 4D Ride – VR-Integrated Rides Bring the Action to You

The concept of 4D rides is not entirely a new invention, with “4D” rides providing gyroscopic exhilaration being around for years and a mainstay at more expensive amusement parks. The Samsung 4D ride line, built around their mobile GearVR technology, allow for a greater variety of rides and experiences. Among others, this included scenic boat rides, riding down a skeleton toboggan track and a stunt aircraft show, all shot in 360 and providing some really immense, if nauseating thrills.

All of this pales in comparison to the spaceship demo, which used the previously unseen Gyro 4D simulator. This is an incredible, exhilarating looking gyroscope that could pitch and throw its users 360 degrees both vertically and horizontally, mirroring the actions of a spacecraft hurtling through space.

While this technology is less revolution and more amusement arcade, and almost certainly would not be available to consumers, the integration of VR in increasingly sophisticated movement simulators is fantastic to see. It is something built for CES and something that immediately captures the attention of the wider tech community. It was telling that it was one of the busiest attractions throughout the whole of CES 2017.

8: Intel Walk-Around VR Video – Not only Look Around But Move Around in Video

Intel had an excellent showing for VR at CES, and while the much-heralded Project Alloy was the star of Intel’s show, nothing can be taken away from the magnificent technical accomplishment that was their Walk-Around Volumetric VR video in conjunction with HypeVR. It is one thing to be able to look around 360 degrees in a video; it is quite another feat entirely to allow viewers to walk around and take a look at things from unique angles and peek over objects.

All of this does come at a cost (a whopping 3 Gigabytes per frame), needing hardware well beyond the reach of pretty much everything available right now. Don’t expect to be wandering around the cinema while watching the latest blockbuster quite yet.

The future has been signposted here however. It will be interesting to see if walk-around VR catches the imagination enough for cinemas to give it a try.

7: Rapael Smart Glove – The Rehabilitation Power Glove

The medical world has found some interesting uses for VR. Various solutions take advantage of its immersive qualities to boost cognitive function, aid in mental health intervention and improve physiotherapy. Many of these solutions are gigantic and prohibitively expensive, such as the Neurogoggles or the A.I.R facilities at BASIC in Salford.

Made by NEOFECT, the Rapael Smart Glove provides a significantly more affordable VR rehabilitation solution. Bearing  a mild resemblance to both the classic DataGlove design and the more infamous Power Glove, the things the Rapael can do are significantly more advanced than either. The Rapael has a 9-Axis movement and position sensor, designed to capture patient data incredibly accurately to aid rehabilitation.

The intent of the hardware is for healing wrist and hand injuries, and as such the hardware is being marketed towards clinics. There is also the ability to rent a home unit as well for an estimated price of  £81 per month, which also provides access to the library of gamified rehab exercises. An incredible device that has the potential to change lives for the better through virtual reality..

6: Holo Cube – Pandora’s Toy Box

MergeVR’s innovative add on to their existing low cost headset is quite the revelation for essentially being a cube with QR codes printed on it. The MergeVR is a relatively low power machine and the physical cube is nothing special, but the software connecting it together is almost magical. CES showed a number of demo apps, including a virtual pet and even a Minecraft style world you could rotate and play with as you saw fit. There were also more simple block puzzles and an AR take on one of those rotating marble maze puzzles reimagined for VR.

There’s potential for the device as an education tool. Indeed, Merge’s demo included turning the Holo Cube into a brain, a heart and a skull. All of the potential of this quite amazing idea ultimately depends on what developers make of it.  MergeVR have some advantages in this regard, with a strong user base, low cost and wide availability (at least in the USA). This means that there’s certainly enough people to develop interesting cube based antics for when it releases later this year.

5: Intel’s Project Alloy – Send your Room to Another World

Project Alloy is one of those secret projects that has seen all manner of speculation.  Intel’s “merged reality” headset has ended up as one of the highlights of their CES showing. Serving as a middle ground between the complete isolation of the Oculus Rift and the augmented nature of Microsoft’s Hololens, Project Alloy is a head mounted display with a camera which lets you see and interact with the outside world.

Much of this was already known before CES. However the showing at CES was fascinating to say the least, with Project Alloy taking its merged reality concept to another level. The headset recognises and renders household objects in the room before transforming them (and indeed the rest of the room) into a fierce alien battle. The hardware is still in a very early state but it is still turning heads, and without the need for wires or external trackers.

4: Hypersuit – A Bizarre Metal Bed of Flying dreams

Flight is one of the basic dreams of humankind, with a desire to soar in the sky being the inspiration for many innovations. Hypersuit, a Paris based startup company developed what can best be described as an all-body flight stick. The huge controller looks like a cross between a ride on arcade machine and a massage bed. You lie on it, hold on to the two metal wing joysticks and soar through the heavens in VR.

Currently there is not a lot there, just a prototype and some demonstration games. These include some really cool things like being a cosmonaut, a super hero and a bird, the latter of which makes you even flap the wings of the device to stay afloat.

Clearly not for the vertigo sufferers amongst you, but this is a completely new way to interact in VR that isn’t either sitting down or standing up.  The potential for such a technology is huge.

3: Fove0 – Advanced Eye Tracking VR Headsets

From the ridiculous to the somewhat sublime, eye tracking has a lot of potential in VR. Part of the reason for this is to add more realistic looks and focus to VR experiences but it also allows for greater technical efficiency in apps;  they only need to render in detail what the eye is focusing on. The Kickstarter backed world’s first eye tracking headset announced at CES that they are beginning to ship headsets worldwide, at a cost of $599 (Roughly £480, plus shipping).

Currently the amount of content is very limited, and there is the worry it could be pushed out of the consumer market by the established “big three” (HTC Vive, Oculus and Playstation VR). The potential for Fove’s eye tracking technology is game-changing however. It will be interesting to see what happens with both the Fove itself as eye-tracking could end up being the next revolution in VR headsets.

2: HTC Vive Tracker – Turn Anything into a VR Controller

Many of the highlights of CES revolved around unique peripherals. There are many ways to interact with the VR world beyond a controller or wand currently in development. HTC decided to go one step further and provide developers with a way to make VR controllers out of pretty much anything. The Vive Tracker simply screws in using a standard camera input and once done the object is picked up as a controller by Vive’s lighthouse sensors.

A basic description does not do justice to just how massive this is. Basically these Trackers mean that any enterprising developer can turn pretty much anything into a VR Controller. At CES this year this included a couple of gun peripherals; they allowed players to for example, aim down its sights, point and shoot, and whip the gun around in a way not really seen in VR, or even arcades for that matter (That bizarre full-room version of House of the Dead 4 notwithstanding).

There’s a number of other interesting peripherals already in development. These include a baseball bat, cameras and gloves. Since the Vive Tracker allows for more inputs than the standard Vive controller, the potential for a wireless dataglove, even with a giant plastic dongle on it is rather impressive.

The potential for training as well is staggering, with a firefighting demo using a simulated firehose attached to a Tracker being a particularly impressive and immersive demo.

1: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 and ODG R8 and R9 – Integrated Mobile VR

In a list filled with metal wingsuit tables, screw in devices that let you use a sword in VR and VR shoes, by far the most impressive highlight is a processor. This is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835: a mobile octo-core processor that allows for greater graphical power and longer battery life than previous processors. It is also is about half the size of a penny and allows the potential for 1Gps mobile networks without any extra chips.

This improved power and much smaller form factor has so much potential for VR. This takes the form of not only the latest generation of smartphones but more importantly, the potential for standalone devices. Also revealed at CES were the ODG R8 and R9. The combined VR/AR glasses are quite expensive right now; the “cheaper” consumer R8 model has an expected price of $1000.  Bearing in mind that ODG’s previous model was nearly twice that price suggests a rapid movement towards affordable, widely available smartglasses.

Forget a VR rig you can carry in your pocket, imagine a complete VR system you can wear all the time. The future is here already if you have a very large wallet.

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