If you’ve played VR, you know that, while awesome, the technology has some serious draw backs. My eyes sweat, apparently, which is really uncomfortable. The cords can get tangled all over (someone really should get on making wireless VR a thing). But, perhaps worst of all, it doesn’t take much for the sensors and scanners that project you into the virtual world to get confused. One wrong move and the game has no clue where you are.
Looking to address that, Science Magazine reports, a team of researchers at Stanford (and it would be Stanford, wouldn’t it?) have started tinkering with a new system that can track where someone is with WiFi signals. The best part? It’s cheaper, more reliable, and way easier.
The basic principle is stupendously simple — attach one sensor to the person and place two transmitters elsewhere in the room. The two transmitters will beam signals to the chip and then measure the response time. It’s basically how your ears work in reverse. Instead of one source and two receivers, you have two sources and one receiver.
The system, dubbed “WiCapture,” seems so simple it’s a bit of a wonder why no one’s tried it before. That’s because there’s one slight hiccup. Each WiFi chip is built just a little bit off. As a result, they can’t be perfectly in-tune with one another. That means doing a basic measurement, like figuring up how long a signal took to get somewhere and back could be off by enough that it wouldn’t meet the level of precision needed for VR.
To compensate, WiCapture bounces several signals around the room — each of which eventually hits the receiver. With that as a baseline, the software can figure out how off each transmitter is and make up the difference. If we’re sticking with the ear analogy, this is essentially noise canceling (it’s not, really at all like that, but it is close enough). The result is a clean image of where you are in the room that the computer (and any game running on it) to understand.
For now, the tech isn’t quite as fast as the standard camera set-up, but the price difference between the two approaches would allow WiCapture to slot in an accelerometer that could give the system a rough idea of where the player is, that is then smoothed out with WiFi. Best of all, though, the tech is usable now.
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