Avatar inspires groundbreaking VR tool

AUTHOR: Inavate

A development at the UK’s University of Abertay Dundee will open the doors to the use of incredibly sophisticated, 3D, virtual environments in sectors such as education or medical. Using virtual cameras, Wii-like motion controllers and techniques pioneered by James Cameron in Avatar; computer games researchers claim the system can be created for less than £100. Video content in main story.

James Cameron invented a new way of filming called Simul-cam, where the image recorded is processed in real-time before it reaches the director’s monitor screen. This allows actors in motion-capture suits to be instantly seen as the blue Na’vi characters, without days spent creating computer-generated images.

Project Motus, led by computer games technology lecturer Matt Bett, links the power of a virtual camera – where a computer enhances what a film camera could achieve – using a motion-sensor. This allows intuitive, immediately responsive camera actions within computer-generated worlds.

Bett said: “Avatar is a fantastic film in terms of its technical achievements. To push the boundaries of filmmaking required the creation of brand new techniques, which is staggering. What the Simul-cam technology allows is a kind of augmented reality, where the computer-generated world can be seen immediately.

“What I wanted to do was turn this on its head, and bring this power to home computers. Using a new Sixense electromagnetic motion controller, we can now manipulate a virtual camera in any virtual environment – be it a film, an animation, a computer game, or a simulation tool for teaching.”

Project associate Erin Michno, an undergraduate Computer Games Technology student at Abertay University, added: “This tool could completely change the way […] computer-aided learning is delivered to students around the world.

“In the classroom and lecture theatre, having this level of control for such a small price would allow some things which just aren’t possible – performing virtual operations live on screen, flying through the inside of an engine – in any school and any university.”

TheSixense Truemotion Devkit will be manufactured by Razer and uses electromagnetic sensors to capture the controller’s position to a precise single millimetre accuracy. Unlike other controllers, it still works even when an object is in the way. It will work on any home PC, and is expected to retail for under £100 (€118) from early 2011.

A patent application for the invention and unique applications of the technology has been recently filed in the UK