Friday, April 24, 2015

Virtual Reality

The Chicago Virtual Reality Meetup group was founded last March (2014) and had its first meeting in June. Gotta love being a ten-minute drive from the meeting place for a change. I love Meetup and have gone to Drupal meetings downtown and out in St. Charles. WordPress meetup in Elmhurst. But to meet in Glen Ellyn was wonderful. Extra bonus points for seeing where the Cubicle Ninjas hide out. I'd first heard of them during my job hunt five years ago but never had the opportunity to meet anyone. Josh Farkas has been a great host and they have a terrific facility with powerful workstations (Mac and Windows) by which to power their Oculus Rift development kits. (They have the original DK1 and two DK2 kits.)

The Ninjas are working on an application for virtual reality environments. I don't know how much more I can say about it but it ties in nicely with my avocational side. Combined with my interest in Second Life, this Meetup group held high expectations for me. I geeked it and wore my old Atari Jaguar shirt, which got noticed. Virtual Reality headgear first got mentioned back in the early 90s and the Jaguar console was hyped as the beneficiary of that technology. It all disappeared as quickly as it bloomed. Twenty years later and with much more powerful computers, we have the money of Facebook backing the Oculus Rift as well as other big-money players throwing in. The shirt was a reminder how these things can fade away.

Josh expressed a lot of enthusiasm for my Second Life expertise and we've been talking about getting together since that first June meeting. It happened, kinda, last December 23 after I got off of work and hustled over to their offices. After fiddling with settings for twenty minutes, I was operating my son's old avatar, using the beta viewer that supports the Oculus Rift. I tried to take a picture but that functionality is not available. I have links to videos. The immersion was impressive: The framing parts of the User Interface (UI) floated just above and below and to the sides so that you faced the full three-dimensional aspects of whatever SL sim you visited without their distraction. With the headgear, you have no view of your hands and therefore need to experiment with placing your left hand over the WASD keys to move around. It took me a few minutes to get the mouse cursor to appear in my view and then I was able to work the menus and click on items.

About five weeks later, I visited again for a longer exploration of Prehistorica and some other Oculus-friendly sites. It's pretty exciting what is going on.

Time passed quickly but it was enough for me to feel like Linden Lab has done a good job of utilizing the OR. I want more! And Josh has promised that I can visit on my own to use one of their stations. I've also tempted him into taking charge of that avatar to begin his own explorations. My feeling is that VR and applications like SL are a major frontier for doing business in the near future when OR headsets (and competitors' versions) go commercial.

I am getting ready to explore High Fidelity as well.

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