Personal VR cocoons and the future Holodeck

A personal immersive, multimedia bubble is promised in the Immersive Cocoon, which allows you to walk inside and have a personal virtual reality experience. Not only does it have a sleek, Kubrickian design on the outside:


but the user interaction is futuristic as well. The tracking systems follow hand and arm gestures, and body movements, so that the user has a Minority Report-style affordances for controls, and can also walk on a continuously sliding floor surface that keeps the person centered in the Cocoon.

An automated floor to accommodate user motion in virtual reality is not new. For instance at the Emerging Technology venue at SIGGRAPH 2004, the CirculaFloor was demoed:


which consisted of a set of rolling floor tile robots that would move ahead of each of the user's steps, while also rolling backwards to keep the user in place. The same team has worked on omnidirectional treadmills (like the Immersive Cocoon design), but their latest idea is the String Walker, which attaches strings to the user's feet. These track not only their motion, but motors attached to the strings also apply reciprocal forces, pulling the wearer back to keep him centered within the motion rig.

As I had mentioned here, gestural interaction is a robust field of virtual reality research. It doesn't seem farfetched at all to assume that user interfaces a decade (or even five years from now) could be based in part on how we move our appendages rather than direct physical manipulation of affordances. VR locomotion however seems a bit further off. Many of the technologies proposed seem unwieldy and bulky, expensive, possibly prone to malfunction and breakdown, or all of the above. The engineering of futuristic treadmills could be the weak link for Immersive Cocoons and any personal VR spaces where the user is meant to walk around.

But if they do get that problem solved, what's the next technical breakthrough on the horizon that would lead to a Star Trek-style Holodeck? One guess is the attempt to create "physical renders" -- dynamic, tangible objects that can be replicated or transformed on the fly. This definitely sounds like science fiction, but there are groups working on the initial research to bring this idea to reality. Granted we're in the paleolithic era of this development, but there will be exciting times ahead if the engineered reality matches even a smidgeon of what people can dream of for future virtual reality.

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