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Unfettered
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Every year or so I touch base with the next generation of multimedia developers at Carnegie-Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center , located at Electronic Arts’ Redwood Shores campus. ETC is the premier graduate program for interactive entertainment, a multidisciplinary endeavor run by my friend and mentor Carl Rosendahl (yeah that Carl as in PDI as in Shrek ). Yesterday I made the pilgrimage to ETC, and the visit did not disappoint. I was treated to two excellent projects by the students.

One of the projects was an experiment in untethered virtual reality called Project Gotan (not to be confused with Gotan Project , the electronic tango band). Project Gotan is an experiment in virtual reality that puts a Durovis Dive 7 together with a Project Tango tablet, allowing you to freely navigate room-scale VR using a mobile device. The Tango continually scans the physical environment, creating a virtual world in real time to represent your actual surroundings. The upshot of this is that you can be in a fully immersive headset, optically cut off from the outside world, and yet walk around freely without fear of bumping into things and, more importantly, without wires and a cable sherpa keeping you safe.


That’s me, all over: walking around in room scale VR with no wires.

A nice touch was the procedurally generated, voxel-rendered world in the style of Minecraft . Unlike the game, this world doesn’t need to calculate surface areas using marching cubes or some other computationally challenging task on a tablet. The Tango is delivering point cloud data, which Gotan can render directly as those familiar grass-and-dirt block shapes without much fuss; this world had a few million points in it, easy.


The world of Project Gotan , with real-world physical obstacles rendered as voxels in the virtual world.

One small critique I had was that I thought the size of the voxels was deceptive. In Minecraft it feels to me like voxels are about 1/2 meter on a side each. Now this is the interesting part: even though I have only ever experienced Minecraft on a flat screen (hope that changes soon!), I have an unconscious sense of the physical size of a voxel. I brought this innate assumption with me into the Project Gotan environment, and during my first forays it tripped me up, literally and figuratively. The Gotan voxels seemed to be just a few inches on a side, which made me move very tentatively through the space until I got accommodated to the difference in scale. Don’t get me wrong; this is a minor complaint, and I only share the story for the observation about how our sensory systems are intertwined with muscle memory — crazy!

Even though I have only ever experienced Minecraft on a flat screen, I have an unconscious sense of the physical size of a voxel.

Project Gotan is a grad student project, an experiment to see how far we can push room-scale immersion. It’s still crude — but maybe it points to where we can take VR with a little imagination and a lot of hard work jamming for a grade. This was Unfettered VR and now that I’ve had a taste, well, the bar has been raised for me.

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