30.05.19

Human-eye resolution VR delivers ‘20/20 vision’

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Finnish startup Varjo has developed a human eye resolution VR headset, delivering a resolution of 60 pixels per degree, akin to 20/20 vision.

The VR-1 headset uses Varjo’s bespoke 20/20 eye tracker, designed to track eye movements by reflecting images onto the eye and tracking them algorithmically, using dual cameras, infrared illumination pattern approach and a computer vision algorithm to deliver an accuracy of less than one degree of visual angle. 

This allows the headset to determine what the user is focusing on in the VR space, concentrating processing power on that area to create a high definition render and using a workstation type setup such as a GForce 2080 or an RTX 6000 to meet the high demands of processing power needed to make the headset function optimally.

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A setup like this can cost a few thousand Euros to set up, using the latest in rendering technology and allowing for upgrades to the software and workstation to keep pace with improvements.

Most conventional high-end VR devices rely on two displays, using one display for the eye, however VR-1 uses a total of four displays, with two displays per eye.

 A contact display acts as a background display with an added semi-transparent mirror at 45 degrees which allows a smaller display to be projected from the side, creating a feeling of overlay.

The centre area uses a high-resolution display that matches human eye resolution, approximately 60 pixels per one-degree field of view.

This kind of resolution allows users to read within a virtual environment, accessing virtual screens, newspapers and more.

The headset is controlled by using controllers from the Steam eco-system, allowing any controller made for that ecosystem to work with the headset.

Varjo also intends to develop its own controller designed for the professional market.

Niko Eiden, founder and CEO of Varjo, set his sights on the professional market, working with high end clients in the automotive industry like Audi and Volvo who use the headsets to design and test cars.

Eiden has a background at Nokia and Microsoft, working to develop diffractive optics that went on to become the Microsoft HoloLens.

Niko Eiden headshot

“I've been looking at eye tracking for 15 years and for the first time, it's at a level that you don't have to focus on anything" - Niko Eiden, CEO, Varjo

Eiden said “Because our target is the professional market, how do you work? How do you spend time on a daily basis in VR and in the VR session? For that we need to have the right tool.

“Creative professionals want to use VR-1 for the design part, they want to show management the future cars, the experience of VR, they want to do factory floor planning in VR and then they want to use it for customers, showrooms and so that the customers can see the car before buying it.”

Varjo have built a relationship with Audi and Volkswagen but see a wide variety of use cases in training and pre-experience applications.

VR has seen widespread usage in simulation areas, with fire services and medical staff making use of the technology for simulation purposes.

Eiden explained “Police, emergency rooms, control rooms, everything where you have situations that might happen at some point, but it's very hard to actually exercise, so that one time that a user comes face to face with a situation, they know how to react.”

Architectural applications are also a possibility, being able to experience a building in full scale and observing how sunlight might play inside the space, which previously would have been limited to simple theoretical calculations.

Eiden added “We have an eye tracker with eyeglasses and contact lenses, nobody else has anything similar on the market."

The uptake of VR by leading automotive manufacturers and other companies is increasing, albeit at a slow place, however advances in eye tracking could help bring VR technology into the mainstream of professional design and usage.

Eiden remarked “I've been looking at eye tracking for 15 years and for the first time, it's at a level that you don't have to focus on anything. From an interaction perspective, it's very exciting to be here because for the first time, you can actually use eyesight to interact with things.

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“Previously, you had to concentrate and really try to focus on something, that might have worked, or it might not. We have a demo and you can select things just by looking at it and it's really fast so it’s not just for training purposes, but even for use cases where you have your hands tied.”

The evolution of P2P communication into the 3D world offers an opportunity for increased immersion via eye tracking as Eiden explains “In many cases, companies are using audio as a cue for where the other person wants to look, but if you stop talking, your colleague starts to look somewhere else, because there is no sound anymore so that stops working.

“Being able to have an avatar looking where the actual user is looking at is just going to increase the immersion and that sense of realness.”

Mixed reality has been described as the ‘future’ of extended reality technologies and Varjo intends to pursue the technology further.

Eiden explained “We plan to bring in mixed reality, the way we wanted to do it initially. There will be new stuff for the research community to look at and I think in the long term that will also create completely new use cases, for business prospects.”

Varjo has unveiled its prototype of its first mixed reality/virtual reality device, the XR-1, in cooperation with Volvo, allowing Volvo designers and engineers to ‘drive’ real cars in a virtual environment, assessing features in a simulated environment years before they are brought to market.

The XR-1 uses a dual camera setup, allowing users to see through the device into the real world in a resolution that matches the human eye resolution of the headset, creating an immersive mixed reality environment.

Eiden said “If you have a camera setup, you can do whatever you want. I could change the wall of a room and it would open up into a virtual one, you can switch between the reality and the virtual world seamlessly.

“That was really the initial vision and that's what we really want to do and bring a device on the market that will allow you to redefine reality.”