Immersive technology refers to all forms of perceptual (input to the user) and interactive (output from the user) hardware technologies that blur the line between the physical world and the simulated or digital world. To create a realistic environment, development and recording tools that blends the various technologies together for use within various types of immersive applications or media is required.
Various perceptive technologies are being developed to trick your brain into believing that the digital source of information that it is exposed to is real.
Humans have multiple methods of sensing their environment. Methods include Sight (visual), Hearing (audio), Touch (tactile), Taste (gustation), and Smell (olfaction). Most of the commercial research and development is focused on the Visual, Auditory and Tactile immersive solutions:
- 3D (stereoscopic)
Stereo displays present offset / slightly different images to both eyes. These 2 offset images give the brain a perception of 3D depth. Examples of stereo-display solutions:
– Handheld stereoscopic viewers such as the View-Master which presents a set of miniaturized color-film transparencies on a cardboard disk to the viewer in 3D (I had one in the early 80’s).
– Anaglyph 3D glasses, with red/cyan, red/green or red/blue colour filters used to watch anaglyph films.
– Polarized 3D glasses to view films displayed on an aluminized or silver screen are popular in some theatres and theme parks. Two superimposed images are projected onto the same screen through different polarizing filters to present a stereoscopic image to the person wearing the special glasses.
– Anaglyph 3D and Interference filter technology are employed by Dolby 3D where different wavelengths of red, green, and blue light are presented to each eye. The screens that are used with this method are cheaper than the aluminized/silver screens required for polarized stereoscopic films. However, the glasses required are more expensive.
– Autostereoscopy as utilised by the Nintendo 3DS solution do not require the viewer to wear 3D glasses. The handheld gaming device uses parallax barrier technology to display a 3D image. Each eye sees a slightly different image and therefore perceives what they are seeing to be 3D.
- 4D experiences
4D combines 3D (stereoscopic) film with physical effects that occur in synchronization with the film. Effects may include sprayed water, wind, strobe lights, the movement or vibration of the theater seat and introduction of certain smells. The theater may also introduce smoke or bubbles to enhance the experience.
One or more video projections onto a dome create an immersive experience to viewers within the dome. The content can be computer generated, pre-recorded video or broadcast live. This technology is quite popular in planetariums, flight simulators and some virtual reality environments.
A hologram is a photographic recording of a light field, rather than of an image formed by a lens. It is used to display a 3D object which can be seen with the naked eye.
- Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality creates a digital simulated world that the user is fully immersed in from a visual perspective, generally through a Virtual Reality headset.
Examples of consumer solutions are the Facebook backed Oculus Rift, Sony PS Morpheus, HTC Vive, Google Cardboard and the Samsung Gear VR headsets. Click here to read about the most popular VR headsets available.
- Augmented Reality
Augmented reality blends virtual reality with the physical world. A user can see and interact with virtual objects in the real world with a special headset.
Examples of consumer headset solutions are Microsoft HoloLens, CastAR, the Google Glass headset (the Google X programme ended in January 2015) and Magic Leap (the mysterious company with a headset that Google is now backing).
Augmented reality solutions are already available for the existing generation of smartphones and tablets that we use. Some solutions use the Layar Augmented Reality platform.
- 3D audio effects manipulate the sound a person can hear by placing and controlling the sound created from speakers places in various locations around the listener(e.g. in front, on top, behind and on the sides of the listener).
- Surround sound is an advanced version of 3D audio where sound is recorded and played through multiple audio channels from multiple speakers that surround the listener.
Haptic Technologies apply forces or vibrations to the user which create the sense of touch.
Readers may be familiar with home gaming console controllers with vibration or force feedback.
In December 2014 UltraHaptics announced a new haptic technology that allows you to touch and feel a hologram with their solution that uses sound waves to provide tactile feedback. In July 2015 Japanese researchers announced the ability to create haptic holograms using femtolasers (holograms that you can touch and see without any headset or suit). Teslasuit are creating a full body VR suit that delivers haptic feedback to the user.
While the perceptive technologies provide input to the user, interactive technologies recognize the various outputs a user provides and respond to it accordingly.
Examples of interactive technologies are speech recognition solutions (e.g. Siri, “Okay Google”), motion gesture solutions (e.g. Playstation Move, Xbox Kinect), Omni-directional treadmills (that allow a user to move in multiple directions within a virtual reality), and Brain-Computer Interface technologies (there’s a lot of research in this space but limited consumer solutions that are commercially available).
Development and recording tools:
Development tools (e.g. IDE’s, SDK’s, emulators and integration technologies) play a major role in creating virtual environments by processing the input from various perceptive and interactive technologies in real-time (e.g. VR headset with an omni-directional treadmill and surround sound), and then providing a realistic and dynamic digital reality (developed with a gaming engine) for users to immerse themselves in.
360 Degree VR recording cameras will become more popular with the introduction of more VR headsets to the consumer market.
Artificial intelligence is also being advanced and it will play a big role in creating even more realistic and useful applications.
The use of immersive technologies is growing daily in multiple spheres, e.g. medical, military and flight simulators, educational or entertaining film experiences, gaming and telecommunications; in virtual or augmented environments for each user.
We haven’t advanced to the Holodeck technology that you see on Star Trek (a 3D virtual room with real life projections that you can perceive with all primary senses and interact with). See this page for examples of the Holodeck. The closest advances to the holodeck that we have are the following project examples (although they do not really utilise hologram technology) MS RoomAlive, CAVE (projector or LCD based), Google Holodeck (LCD screens on walls)
Expect more immersive technology breakthroughs to be announced and more consumer immersive technology solutions to become available very soon.
You can track and understand the latest Immersive Technology developments with ease at the Immersive Authority.