Reality, the new currency

An overview of VR and AR, a detailed explanation of the tech devices that make up headsets as well as a comment on the different ethical concerns surrounding the technology.

Take a seat and get cozy, before we start off I would like for you to have a look around for 5 minutes: look at the space you taking up of the room you are in, look at what is surrounding you, how much space you have beneath you and above you, how you breath feels, the noises and smells that you can detect and then ask yourself how you are feeling?

*This is not a meditation session I can sure you*

I hope you are a bit calmer now however are you stressed, excited, happy or upset about something?

This is what reality feels like, all of the feelings, smells, sounds and your surroundings are real *or at least so we think*. I have wanted to tele transport myself for as long as I can remember, it started when I watched Harry Potter and wanted to go to Hogwarts *and still want to go there now*

My parents told me that going to Hogwarts unfortunately was impossible.

Impossible huh?

In their defense this game only came out in 2016 however I was beyond thrilled when I found out about this technology that could allow me to travel to whatever universe I wanted, and allow me to create my own if was bored of the one other people created!

To access this a VR headset or HMDs (Head Mounted Displays) is necessary. Unfortunately it isn’t magic that makes it all work *tough it seems like it sometimes*. There are three three movements that HDMs track: ( not all three are necessary)

1. Head tracking

This allows the image to change as you look up, down or sideways. It is a system called six degrees of freedom (6DoF) that plots you head in terms of X, Y and Z axis. These 6DoF are detected with the use of three different sensors, that I put into All Monkeys Grow *creating stories does help memories so bear with me*

  1. Accelerometer which *you guess it* measures acceletration! This is useful to measure changes in velocity and works best to capture small movements.
  2. Magnetometer measure magnetic fields, it can be also used as a compass. It’s weaknesses are that it has poor accuracy for fast movement, but pretty much zero drift (bias) over time.
  3. Gyroscope measures two values: changes in position (orientation) and changes orientation how fast the orientation of an object changes with time (velocity) .

These three work best when used together allowing for quick and accurate position and orientation determination with a low amount of drift over time.

2. Motion tracking

Being able to see you hand in the HMD makes you really feel as though you really are in the virtual reality and this is called a FULLY immersive experience. Motion tracking that plays a rely role in making fully immersive experiences which are more realistic and liked by users. There are a few leaders in motion tracking that you should know about:

  1. Kinect- all uses

Kinect is a tracking device that refreshes 30 times every second, it is extremely accurate due to these three technologies that work together:

  • Color VGA video camera — This video camera aids in facial recognition and other detection features by detecting three color components: red, green and blue.
  • Depth sensor — Made up of an infrared projector which gives off infrared beams of light that get refracted and create an image on a screen and a monochrome CMOS sensor which captures all light regardless of it’s color. Together these “see” the room in 3-D, regardless of the lighting conditions. *you can have all you lights off and this device will see you room better than you!!*
  • Multi-array microphone — It is made up of 4 microphones *that’s why it’s called multi-* that isolate the background noise from the player’s voice, this makes it possible for the user to be a few feet away from the microphone and still use voice control.

These three high-tech components make Kinect such a great imaging tool which is why it’s use hasn’t been limited to gaming but it has been used in a great variety of fields and will continue to do so. For example Kinect had helped people on physical therapy to recover from strokes at home *this is incredibly relevant with covid*, here is an article on it.

2. Antilatency — mostly gaming

The tracker gets its position relative to an infrared layout made with active IR markers. Every pattern consists of a unique combination of markers, which helps the tracker understand its position accurately. The area also gets covered with a foam floor that helps to install the reference bars while also protecting the user from falling and injuries.

Since the company is called anti-LATENCY is seems relevant the explain what latency is .Latency is the time it takes for a request to travel from the sender to the receiver and for the receiver to process that request. In other words, the time it takes from the browser to the server.

3. OptiTrack- all uses

These detect the precise position of the head-mounted displays, controllers, other objects or body parts within Euclidean space (play area selected) .

This company uses active LED marker identification and it can track areas of 30 m × 30 m and MORE!, with their camera called Slim 13E .

This can be used for other purposes such as:

  • Movement Sciences
  • Virtual Production
  • Animation
  • Robotics

3. Eye tracking

To track eye movement an infrared sensor, which we have come across in motion tracking, is used. Eye tracking is important to make depth of field more realistic, an area that needs improvements, while also allowing in-game characters to more precisely react to where the player is looking.

The next level

What if we could mix virtual reality as reality as we know it?

That’s where AR comes into place. AR works so that the reality you see doesn’t change but there are additions on top of what is already there: there are virtual images over real world objects. These can come in the form of AR glasses, mobile phones and, PCs and smart TVs. This is what most people believe will be used as the most because of it’s practicality.

In order for virtual objects to be situated on top of real objects these have to be recognised first and there are three ways that AR does this:

1. SLAM can be performed using a Kinect device and stands for Simultaneous Localization and Mapping. SLAM detects sensors simultaneously taking into account their surroundings, while at the same time mapping the structure of the environment. It is a set of algorithms aimed at solving simultaneous localisation and mapping problems that often occur.

2. Recognition based works by having cameras that recognize specific objects of visual markers that let the algorithm know where the virtual image will have to appear. This method relies on the ability f the camera to detect the marker and most importantly to distinguish it from other objects. These matters can be QR codes or simple natural features (NFT) that the algorithm is trained to recognize.

3. Location based doesn’t use any markers but uses many tools such as those used for head tracking that activate the virtual objects based on their location in the space detected. These have become popular on smartphones as the location feature makes it easy to be implemented.

Well done for getting this far! This was the techy part of the article now we’ll look at the the ethics of VR and what interests me most about the applications of it. BUT first I have decided add a Harry Potter Joke to keep you going…Why does Voldemort prefer Twitter over Facebook? *the answer is at the bottom of the article*

Mental Health, Social Media, Reality and Chaos

I have given this much thought: is our search for a virtual world a sign of dissatisfaction from the world we already live in?

Realities that differ from the truth are already a part of our lives. Fake news and content on social media that we consume often don’t reflect the aspects of life that are real since we would rather ignore these and create a new narrative that isn’t ‘real’.

Is creating a new reality the way to go or would it be better to focus our efforts on the reality we live in now and making that better?

I strongly believe in the second one. However VR is not advanced enough yet to replace reality as the resolution isn’t high enough. I have had the opportunity to go in a six sense booth where not only did I have an Oculus headset but I also felt wind, smells and heat which made it all much more realistic than any other experience I tried before. It was very realistic however I never questioned whether I was really there, the quality of the videos I was watching simply couldn’t compare *it will at some point, sooner than we think*. On the other hand, it has been shown that by having incomplete-looking and simplistic videos people’s imagination fills the gap making them more tailored to the users which leads them to have a stronger response from content. Different features and characteristics of VR have different impacts on different people.

What interests me is the mental health impacts of both VR and AR and I will explore with thoughts on it here.

For example, the impacts that long term daily use of social media has on people’s mental health is unarguably a negative one. A higher screen time has been directly linked to greater unhappiness. I am so passionate about VR and AR because of how much of a positive impact these can have on diagnosing and helping people with mental health conditions feel better. However both can have the opposite effect and not enough people are focusing on this.

When the iPhone was released there was no comparison to it and therefore no one could have imagined just how big of an effect it would have on the wellbeing of millions of people but that isn’t the case for VR and AR. We can look at what it is about social media long term use that makes users feel negative feelings and avoid recreating that on VR.

To make VR safer we could have strict guidelines strictly impose minimum age for content limiting the exposure of non appropriate content to children and use the technologies that track eye movement, head movement and motion which have the ability of estimating your age. Analysing the history of videos watched and frequency of genres seen my users could detect whether something is off with too. Seeing whether they have been watching sad content or meditation clips more than usual and whether that relates to depression or something else.

There are various features that could be implemented in VR and AR to mitigate their negative effects but the fact that none of the social media companies now are doing this shows that it isn’t likely for VR and AR companies to adopt these in the first place. For example decreasing screen time is the best thing the user can do to improve their wellbeing but a company selling HMDs would never promote the message of not buying their product!

Excessive phone usage is already creating many problems and my concern is that VR will increase these.

On the other hand if one is dissatisfied with the reality they are in today VR could offer them awareness and soul-searching journey to change their way of approach to life making them find a purpose. It can help mitigate everyday stress by making meditation sessions the most pleasant ever. It can also allow you to visit places without leaving your home. It will revolutionise the way we get information and understanding once complex concepts will become easy. What if you could be in a virtual classroom, from anywhere in the world would you need a school anymore? People most likely will not want to stay at home at all times but take this opportunity to travel, creating a wide range of possibilities to enhance so many different fields. Starting from education where VR and AR are already being used and will increasingly do so.

Lately I have been interested *okay, obsessed* with mental health conditions and the different advances that are being made in the field. Especially the impacts that VR and AR will have on the diagnosis process and the support these can give to people that are diagnosed and those that aren’t. Ever since I started going to counselling I realized that the stigma around it didn’t make sense to me and it’s a great opportunity to know yourself more and making it accessible to everyone would make such a big diffrence in the level of awareness we all have. VR could be a support system that helps people with their wellbeing on a daily basis by unlocking memories, traumas and having the space to be listened. This might sound inconsiderate when faced with a mental health crisis in the UK (where I live) but looking ahead I think this technology could improve the lives of everyone by breaking stigmas and making emotional strength something we practice weekly just aswe do with sport.

The Games for Emotional and Mental Health (GEMH) lab has been doing research and advancements by creating games for children that decrease anxiety and depression levels and they have a point!, a HUGE point! They have recently released a game called DEEP and are the proof of the impact that gaming is having and increasingly will have on mental health. But this time positive impacts!

VR and AR are a double edged sword, like smartphones, as they can help improve wellbeing and at the same time worsen it, it is up to us. Most importantly it is up to us to not let negative change happen before our eyes, let’s learn from the past and do things intentionally, intentionally for our own benefit!

Virtual REALITY, augmented REALITY: but do we all agree that there is such thing as REALITY?

This will only gain importance as time goes on and as as the Economist reads ‘The coronavirus pandemic has also revealed something profound about the way societies should treat knowledge’. And this couldn’t be more relevant, as I mentioned before fake news and social media can confuse us on what reality is like. What brought me to reflect on this was watching The Socila Dilemma *totally recommend* where at the end of the film it was asked: ‘Do we agree that there is such thing as reality?’ and that really stuck with me. My reality is most certainly diffrent than yours because the way we percieve things diffrently based on our experinces and envirnment we grew up in however some things we can’t argue about right? When it’s science or maths the obvious would be there there is no way to argue that 2+2 isn’t equal to 4. 2020 has proven that this isn’t the case. Having additional realistic, fully immersive realities could make us loose sense of reality altogether. You may think I am wasting my time thinking about these scenarios but technological advancements are much closer than you think!

How is VR and AR being used TODAY

VirTra- for police and military training. Here users can acess filmed scenraios that are high quality that unfold as the user or team chooses to take certain decisions. These are great to recreate those situations under high pressure and stress that otherwise are hard to recreate with the same intensity. It s currently being used in 32 countries.

Medivis- Is creating both a software that will revolutionise health education and is harnessing AR and AI to advance surgical visualisation and decrease surgical complications.

Psious- is a therapy kit and platform that allows you to go into scenarios where you ahve the choice of what how you want to react to things that happen to you. These vary based on the condition you want to acle and offer a wide range of tretments. Psious is best used by certified clinicians as the environments aolne are not considered treatments and they are deisgned to be additional tools to be used in therapy.

Immersion VR- Where the goal is to transport people to a diffrent place whether that is a classroom or a holday it’s up to the user. Not needing to leave your house and getting to travel the whole world, not in blurry low quality pictures but in high quality planned out journeys: that is Immersion VR’s vision. Currently the produce both 360° videos and photos.

These are just a few! VR is being used in automotive industry to lower number of prototypes produced, in retail, real estate, architecture, gambling, learning development, recruitment, entertainment, education, sports, art and design, events and conferences, charity and marketing and recreation. And this is ALL happening NOW!!!!

Now take a moment to look around you and feel aware of yourself and your surroundings and remember that there is not thing like the reality we are in yet, and that we can and should work on making our reality better and we can use VR and AR to do that but not as replacement.

Thank you for reading this far!

15 yo student curious that writes articles on technologies and mindsets!