Developer Builds Oculus Rift-Powered Robot

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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The upcoming virtual reality headset has been used to control a mobile robot transmitting stereo 60 fps video

A Swiss computer scientist has linked the upcoming Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to a wirelessly controlled robot, allowing the user to explore an area via two wide-angle cameras.

The Rift headset, produced by Facebook-owned startup Oculus VR, is set to make its commercial launch sometime this year, and most application development so far have focused upon gaming. “I wanted to go a step further: show the real world,” wrote engineer Jonas Lauener, who developed the robot at the Institute for 4D Technologies at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland.

oculus robot

While virtual reality displays aren’t new, Lauener said the Rift is promising because of its precise head-tracking technology, 100-degree field of vision and a software development kit (SDK) that makes it easy to develop for.

The Intuitive Rift Explorer (IRE) uses a wide-angle camera for each eye, mounted on a camera rig attached to a three-axis gimbal that follows the user’s head movements.

“As I look around with the Rift, the camera head does the same synchronously. But simply looking around is not enough; I wanted also to be able to move around. Therefore I installed this gyrating stereovision device on a robot platform,” wrote Lauener, who now works as a developer at the Singapore-ETH Centre for Global Environmental Sustainability.

The robot is controlled wirelessly from a static base computer, using a standard video game controller.

Low latency

One of the main challenges in developing the device was to avoid giving the user motion sickness, something that required 60 frames-per-second video and low latency between the user’s head movement and receiving a corresponding image – under 20 milliseconds, which ruled out standards such as Wi-Fi.

Lauener said he solved this problem by using the Wireless HDMI standard, which permitted a transmission range of up to about 40 metres with a latency of under 1 ms. Video and audio is processed via an onboard computer before being transmitted directly to the Rift, with video also displayed on a television mounted on the robot.

He said the use of 60 fps video was also important.

“I also tried it with 30 and 40 fps with the Oculus Rift, but result was horrible,” he wrote. “The image is stuttering and you quickly get motion sick. In my opinion the high frame rate is vitally important to achieving a great experience.”

Oculus has also teamed with Samsung on the Samsung Gear VR headset, which has notably been used by Audi to provide virtual test-drives of its Audi TT S Coupé.

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