Out of the Box: USC Researchers Debut Smartphone 3-D Virtual Reality Viewer Made Out of Cardboard

March 5, 2012

Easy-to-assemble fold-out viewer transforms smartphones into portable immersive virtual reality systems. First 100 do-it-yourself VR viewers being distributed at IEEE Virtual Reality Conference in Orange County, March 4 – 8

Press Contact: Orli Belman

Smart phones have endless applications that keep users connected to the real world. But researchers from the Mixed Reality (MxR) Lab at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies are developing ways to use these ubiquitous devices to transport people to virtual worlds as well.

Beginning Sunday, March 4, at the IEEE Virtual Reality Conference Workshop on Off-The-Shelf Virtual Reality, they began handing hundreds of manila envelopes, each containing a FOV2GO, a portable fold-out iPhone and Android viewer that turns the smartphone screen into a 3-D virtual reality system.  Downloadable software allows users to create their own virtual worlds or environments to display.

Developed with researchers from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, the folded paper device, constructed for less than five dollars, is one of a growing number of do-it-yourself projects that are decreasing the overhead and hardware required for fully immersive virtual reality experiences.  These low-cost, lightweight systems can be used to create portable virtual reality applications for training, education, health and fitness, entertainment and more.

“I am happy to be able to introduce the FOV2GO at the IEEE VR Conference,” said Mark Bolas who heads up the MxR Lab at ICT and is also an associate professor in the interactive media division of the USC School of Cinematic Arts. “This conference has been the premiere venue in the field of VR since its inception in 1999 and now more than a decade later we can put rendering, sensing, and display technologies in the hands – literally – of all participants. This kit enables exploration all facets of virtual reality, from algorithm design to perceptual psychology to visual design. We are already seeing projects that use the FOV2GO to deepen the feeling of immersion and are excited to see what else people can create with this portable paper prototype.”

The FOV2GO was distributed at the ICT-hosted workshop on Off-The-Shelf Virtual Reality and will also be available at the ICT booth during the IEEE Virtual Reality Conference. Recipients can fold the viewer together, download a simple demo app and then slip in their smartphone into the viewer for a portable immersive 3-D experience. Links will be provided to software libraries and packages to help develop immersive VR packages.

“We’re at a unique moment where all the components for creating fully immersive virtual worlds have suddenly become ubiquitous and cheap, often built into devices that we have already in our pockets and on our desktops,” said Perry Hoberman, a research associate professor at the USC School for Cinematic Arts who developed the software that allows the viewer to display stereo images on the Unity game engine.  “All that’s been lacking is a kit that puts all the parts together. That’s what we’ve tried to do with FOV2GO. Our hope is that by making these tools available to artists and designers everywhere, we’ll see VR develop to its true potential as an artistic medium.”

The project and weekend workshop were inspired by the late Randy Pauch’s 1991 paper, “Virtual Reality on Five Dollars a Day” in which he described a virtual reality system costing $5000 – substantially less expensive than much of the immersive technology being used at the time. More than twenty years later, inexpensive sensing and 3-D display technology is a reality. Other devices demonstrated at the workshop included depth cameras for hand and touch interaction and fibrotactile gloves for virtual exploration.

The workshop keynote address by Evan Suma, a postdoctoral researcher in the MxR Lab covered tools for using natural gestures and movements as opposed to traditional keyboards and mouse clicks on a computer. Examples of the lab’s work include FAAST, or Flexible Action and Articulated Skeleton Toolkit and their popular videos on using gestures to power World of WarcraftSecond Lifeand Gmail Motion’s April Fools Prank.

David Krum, who is co-director of the Mixed Reality Lab, will also present a demonstration of Virtual Realty To Go at the IEEE conference.

Other ICT presentations include:

  • Impossible Spaces: Maximizing natural walking in virtual environments with self-overlapping architecture (Evan A. Suma and Zachary Lipps and Samantha Finkelstein and David M. Krum and Mark Bolas)
  • A taxonomy for deploying redirection techniques in immersive virtual Environments (Evan A. Suma, Gerd Bruder, Frank Steinicke, David M. Krum, Mark Bolas)
  • Unobtrusive measurement of subtle nonverbal behaviors with the Microsoft Kinect (Nathan Burba and Mark Bolas and David M. Krum and Evan A. Suma)
  • Immersive training games for smartphone-based head mounted displays (Perry Hoberman and David M. Krum and Evan A. Suma and Mark Bolas)
  • Spatial misregistration of virtual human audio: Implications of the precedence effect (David M. Krum and Evan A. Suma and Mark Bolas)

Presentations at the Workshop on Off-The-Shelf Virtual Reality:
SHAYD: Juli Griffo and James Illiff
THE MINUS LAB: Tales from the Minus Lab, Alex Beachum, Sarah Scialli, Steve Wenzke, David Young, Robyn Tong Gray.