Science Interviews


Mon, 18th Jul 2016

Virtual and augmented reality

Peter Cowley, Angel Investors

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You may have heard of something that has been rolled out this week called vr manpokemon go. This is a mobile game which has people catching fictional creatures called pokemon in their local area- and it uses something called AR, or augmented reality.  Augmented reality and its cousin virtual reality are coming our way - with companies racing to have their tech ready and on the shelves as soon as possible. But how does it work, and what does this mean for gaming? Naked Scientists tech wizard Peter Cowley took Georgia Mills through this new frontier of gaming...

Peter -  There are two parts to those two abbreviations VR and AR. VR is virtual reality and AR is augmented reality.

First of all virtual reality is where you are effectively completely immersed in an environment, which could be real, it could be created by computers which give you sight, touch, hearing, and even smell.

Augmented reality, which is the pokemon connection is, in fact, a computer simulation on top of real life. So in the case of pokemon, you are wandering down the street, you can see an image of whatís in front of you but a pokemon character - whatever they call it because I donít play the game -  will appear in front of you and you are trying to find those. That has a massive adoption recently - I believe about 20 million people are playing it already. It was only released two weeks ago - phenomenal!

Georgia - Yes, servers are completely down. I know this because I was trying to find pokemon in the studio earlier and then it broke. So is this changing gaming?

Peter - Yes. First of all the reason itís suddenly become adopted so much is because of mobile phone technology which allows great video, accelerometer, low cost and everything. Gaming - yes I had a look at that and Iím a bit surprised. And a big survey of nearly 20,000 gamers, only 15% said theyíd buy something that was virtual reality and that might be to do with cost, unlike some of the ones weíre just about to look at which are £10 each, the high end ones can be many hundreds of pounds or even low thousands. But I well imagine when these prices come down in a short time, a year or two, many gamers will be using virtual reality.

Georgia - So how does it work? Weíve got a couple of examples with us here in the studioÖ

Peter - Which we are going to switch on in a moment. Basically, virtual reality works much better. Clearly when youíve got binocular vision which means a screen - weíre both using mobile phones - is split in two so each eye sees a different image. That method of doing it then allows you to create depth so you can actually see around. Then the accelerometer and the GPS inside the phone, and the compass allow you to move your head around so you can look up, down and it will give you a different image based on that. So rebuild the screen based on that.

Georgia - I see. So Iíve slipped my phone into this cardboard contraption - itís very simple. Itís just folded cardboard with two little glass goggles and you stick it on your face and Iíve gone on a tightrope simulator. I don't know why I did that because I despise heights. But when you move your head it around it really does look like youíre there. Iím looking round and I think itís the Grand Canyon Iím tightroping across at the moment.

Peter - Yeah and Iím in a different one. Excuse me if I move away from the microphone but Iíve just come out of a cage in a load of sharks and the sharks are swimming around me.  OoopsÖ

Georgia - You went into the microphone there.

Peter - So looking up and down I can see divers there below me and above me and I can see sharks that are apparently going to attack me - I think!

Georgia - So apart from the perils of whacking into my microphone, and I suppose we both look quite stupid as well holding these big cardboard boxes to our heads. But what kind of things do they need to work on for this to work?

Peter - The two big ones are the fact that computing power isnít probably quite fast enough. So whatís called rendering, which is rebuilding the image, can be a bit slow and when we tried it earlier with different generations of a particular phone, we found quite big differences between those but itís getting there, the technology is getting there.

The other this is the sort of nausea or balance issues. When youíve got this on youíve got no means of connecting yourself with the real environment particularly if youíve got some sensing device on - gloves or something - you're completely immersed in that. In the way that some people are more affected by being on a boat, and some people are more affected by reading in a car, there will be some people who suffer more from it than others.

There are also a few other things as well. Thereís obviously the input devices ,which I think Graihaghís going to be talking about later, how to actually interact. And secondly possibly addiction. You know you can quite enjoy being in your virtual environment compared with normalityÖ

Georgia - And what about outside the world of gaming what kind of use can these have?

Peter - Iíve used on AR effectively to read a menu recently. So this is where you point it at a menu and itís translating the food in real time in front of you. If you are in Russia are something itís very easy if you donít speak Russian. But thereís lots of sensible applications. Some military, medicine, tourism, archaeology. Can you imagine architecture wandering through a building that youíre designing. To be able to see it before itís actually been built.

Georgia - Save money I suppose if you didnít like the design!

Peter - Exactly. Change the design, exactly, yeah.


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