Student-made virtual reality headset adapter allows users to grab objects in reality

Pulkit Budhiraja, computer science Ph.D. candidate, created an add-on to virtual reality technology to allow for specific aspects of the physical world to be cohesive with a user’s virtual reality experience.

His add-on to Oculus Rift’s technology allows for users to see portions of the physical world, such as a cup, while also being in a virtual reality game.

The University is offering a virtual reality course for the first time this semester, CS 498SL. The course, taught by Steven Lavalle, professor in computer science, aims to establish an understanding of the technology and how to develop virtual reality content.

“I consider it to be a kind of mixing of engineering and perceptual psychology.” he said. “Those two things fit together in an unusual way, so I want to get the students to understand that interaction.”

In a study by Budhiraja, he conducted trials of 16 students, although six could not finish all of the scenarios, ranging from roller coasters to floating in space, due to motion sickness.

Overall, there were 300 grabs to the physical world, such as grabbing a cup, documented, according to the paper published on the project, titled “Where’s My Drink? Enabling Peripheral Real World Interactions While Using HMD’s.”

For a user to physically grab a cup while immersed in virtual reality, the most successful result was seen with the object, hand and context option, which “shows the object of interest, the user’s hands and surrounding physical objects with edges,” the paper stated.

This was accomplished by using a three-dimensional printer mount that cased two webcams on the exterior of the headset, allowing for the viewer to see what was on the table in front of them, Budiraja said.

“Essentially what we found was that it was most helpful if we just show some of the important things from the virtual world and just the edges of the context,” Budhiraja said. “This allows you to localize yourself easily without becoming very intrusive to the virtual world that you are in.”

Lavalle has been a mentor for Budhiraja throughout the project. Lavalle was one of the leading scientists for Oculus, a company that produces and designs the Oculus Rift.

“I gave (Budhiraja) some critical feedback from time to time,” said Lavalle, “(At Oculus) I spent a lot of time trying to perfect the transformations and representations and how this information is presented to your eye.”

Now, devices like this are manufactured by a company in Japan, and the Oculus Rift is made in China but is sold by an American company that was recently bought out by Facebook, said Budhiraja. The price for an Oculus Rift is $350.

“I think it is very exciting as a new form of media,” said Lavalle. “It’s very interesting to figure out what kind of human experiences we can have when it’s fully immersive — you feel completely present in another place.”