What Is Fully-Immersive VR? – Technology Explained12 min read08/06/2019
Fully-immersive virtual reality is a digital technology that allows users to experience artificial environments as the real world. In other words, users perceive virtual computer-generated surrounding using visuals, auditory, and haptics. The main destination of this technology is to make it impossible for users to recognize they’re in a simulation rather than a real-world environment.
Unlike semi-immersive virtual reality where users retain a strong connection to the real world, while in the fully-immersive virtual environment, users are completely isolated from the physical surrounding. They can’t properly navigate or interact with real objects. Instead, by wearing a head-mounted display (HMD) and using wireless controllers, users can explore digital 3D environments and interact with computer-generated content.
The virtual reality term is often used as a means of the fully-immersive VR. In fact, virtual reality is only a concept but it has different types that include semi-immersive, true immersive, fully-immersive, and non-immersive VR. Just like other types, fully-immersive virtual reality relies on certain hardware and software delivering a set of components that make immersion possible.
Which Device Is a VR Headset?
What Is the Name of This VR Game?
One of the most important components of the full immersion is visual content. This is the largest and hardest part of work for VR app developers. 3D graphics has to be as realistic as possible to ensure smooth user experience. Virtual environments can be either unreal or replicate existing locations and typical surroundings. High-resolution video delivered via such VR headsets as HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, or Samsung Gear VR makes users feel in a digital world as in the real one.
Another crucial point for providing advanced virtual reality experience is adjusting a digital image to user position and head orientation. Full visual immersion means that users can see a different and suitable image depending on where they’re looking, where they stay, and where they move within the computer-generated environment. In other words, the right perception of virtual reality is impossible without a 360-degree view.
Some VR experiences provide only two types of components: image and sound. Transmitted through HMD built-in headphones, auditory effects enhance the visual 3D content, thus ensuring a more realistic digital surrounding perception. Adjusted to an artificial environment and what’s happening within it, high-quality sound wipes out the user connection to the physical world. Combined with video, adjusted sound results in that the only surroundings a user perceives are digital.
Fully-immersive VR experiences involve at least three types of components: image, sound, and haptic feedback. The latter component allows users to properly interact with 3D objects within virtual environments. VR systems may provide haptic feedback in various ways.
VR systems may ensure a sense of object resistance by providing users with force feedback. This simulator works as in a steering wheel of modern cars. In-car steering wheel force feedback enables drivers to better feel their vehicle and control the car in a more suitable manner. By implementing force feedback in VR apps, developers allow users to feel the weight of computer-generated objects physically by generating pressure on users’ hands, thus ensuring a deeper sense of immersion.
With the vibration of different intensity levels, controllers connected to a VR system provide a user with a sense of holding and manipulating virtual objects, thus simulating their weight and gravity. For example, when a user bumps into an obstacle in a virtual world, controllers may vibrate to simulate a physical sense of collision.
Another way users can orientate themselves in some computer-generated environments is ultrasound. This technology still has rare use cases in virtual reality experiences. However, VentureBeat reported about a UK-based company called Ultrahaptics that had started working on their technology based on ultrasound aimed at enabling users to feel things in VR.
What May VR Systems Use to Provide Haptick Feedback?
Can Today's VR Solutions Provide Thermal Feedback?
The developers created STRATOS Inspire, a plug-and-play haptic module that uses ultrasonic transducers to transmit haptic feedback onto users’ hands, thus ensuring the sense of touch in the air. Their system emits ultrasonic waves with a certain force, which replicates the way how sonar works. When they reach the user’s hand, he or she feels a touch. Thus, users can feel 3D shapes in a virtual world.
In fact, fully-immersive VR is far from being realistic because today’s immersive solutions stimulate few human senses. However, a Korean startup TEGway showed a prototype of their new technology capable of providing thermal feedback in virtual environments. It allows users to feel cold and heat through a special flexible thermoelectric device, also known as TED.
An electric current makes TED change its temperature within 39 and 104 °F (4 and 40 °C). Furthermore, the same device surface can have a different temperature in different zones, thus simulating a pinch on the user’s skin to produce light pain. This ThermoReal technology is supposed to become a part of future VR controllers, gloves, and suits.
Electrostimulation is another way of providing haptic feedback in VR systems. Based on electrical impulses of different frequency and amplitude, electrostimulation allows users to feel various virtual objects and physical phenomena in digital environments. In addition, the same technology can be used for simulating heat and cold within computer-generated surroundings.
A VR suit called Teslasuit uses electrostimulation to provide an extremely deep level of immersion. This full-body haptic feedback system generates electric current to stimulate human nerves, thus simulating punches, touch, bullet penetration, etc. It also provides touch and force feedback as well as enables users to experience high-temperature environments. You could see a similar suit in the Ready Player One movie by Steven Spielberg.
Position and orientation
To enable users to smoothly explore virtual environments, VR systems identify the user position and one’s head orientation. By tracking these parameters, full-immersive virtual reality solutions can determine which 3D content to display and which sound to play. Position and orientation are an inherent part of any fully-immersive virtual reality experience.
Taste and smell
Full-immersive virtual reality is only gaining momentum because it still can’t stimulate all human feelings like taste and smell. However, scientists from the National University of Singapore have already created a conceptual technology that allows people to feel taste via electrodes without actually trying a product. By stimulating human taste buds with electrical impulses, they managed to replicate a taste of candy and lemonade.
In the latter case, the system has a sensor that analyzes the acidity of real lemonade and transmits data to a special cup with LED backlight and electrodes. These electrodes contact a human tongue and transmit an acidity level via electrical impulses while the LEDs provide the color of the drink. The scientists also plan to use this technology to incorporate smell in the future.
According to eMarketer, 57.1 million people will use virtual reality in the U.S. by 2021 compared to only 22.5 million in 2017. Despite the growing number of VR users, the technology still has a few significant challenges that may discourage some people from using it.
Most of today’s fully-immersive VR experiences stimulate visuals, and auditory, and haptics. However, our real world stimulates the way more senses that include smell, taste, the feeling of warm and cold, etc. However, as soon as this technology becomes as immersive as real-world environments, users will lose the sense of reality and confuse a virtual world with a physical one, which may affect their real life.
Fully-immersive VR app developers try to simulate interaction with physical objects in a virtual world. However, this simulation is far from being at least similar to how we interact with objects in reality. To provide the interaction feature, vendors offer such VR controllers as Oculus Touch, Vive, etc. The thing is that most of them rely on vibration to ensure haptic feedback. Despite they have a motion capture system for tracking a position of hands, it’s not enough for deep immersion into a digital environment.
The solution can be improving existing Teslasuit in the way to enable it to simulate low temperatures or smart gloves capable of tracking a position of each finger and even orientation of user’s hands. In addition, smart gloves should be able to provide different haptic feedback types like electrostimulation, force feedback, ultrasound, thermal feedback, and vibration for interaction with specific virtual objects or phenomena. This will ensure a more realistic virtual reality perception and a deeper sense of immersion.
The most immersive VR solutions
Fully-immersive virtual reality to have massive advancement in the next decade since the current state of the technology can’t offer the level of immersion people may expect to treat it fairly. However, the industry already has various solutions that can drastically improve a typical fully-immersive VR experience.
Fully-immersive VR isn’t limited to the use of head-mounted displays and controllers. With this hardware, the technology becomes more available for ordinary users. However, there are advanced solutions that offer a more realistic VR experience. One of them is CAVE, a term that stands for CAVE automatic virtual environment. Launched in 1992, the CAVE fully-immersive virtual reality is a cubic room equipped with a set of stereoscopic display, built-in speakers, and motion capture system.
Imagine the world where physical reality meets virtual reality or you can just try the VOID, a full-immersive VR experience that combines a head-mounted display, controllers in the form of a weapon of future with motion capture, and a real-world location with physical objects. Located in the U.S., UAE, Canada, and Malaysia, the VOID provides a deep immersion by enabling users to move around a specially equipped room while experiencing VR.
For example, when users reach a computer-generated door in virtual reality, they physically open a real door that may look different but the system renders a custom design in a headset thus allowing users to physically touch and feel what they interact with within a virtual environment. It’s worth adding that there also are other similar VR solutions across the globe that are also known as hyper reality experiences.
Installed in the California NanoSystems Institute, Allosphere is a 10-meter sphere that can provide 20 scientists at the time inside with data visualization through a set of stereoscopic displays and 3D sound based on 140 speakers. It also has a built-in motion capture system that allows users to interact with virtual content.
In the sphere, researchers can literally immerse themselves in scientific data. In other words, Allosphere is a huge dynamic digital microscope connected to a supercomputer. This system has 12 projectors that ensure high-resolution images. The capabilities of Allosphere include but not limited to user interaction with a virtual model of the human brain in real time, demonstrating the rotation of electrons, visual calculations, ray tracing, light stream modeling, vіsualizing data collected by sensors, etc.
Typical fully-immersive VR solutions simulate user moving around a virtual environment. It means that users should either press on navigation buttons on controllers or trigger virtual teleportation in order to explore different locations in a computer-generated world. Both options provide poor immersion experiences. That’s why developers from Infinadeck created a VR treadmill connected to a head-mounted display.
This omnichannel treadmill enables users to physically move within a virtual environment. They can move in different directions, unlike ordinary treadmills for walking and running. This device solves two tasks at the time: realistic simulation of user’s moves and eliminating the need for the large area as in hyper reality experiences like the VOID. Full-immersive virtual reality experience, which involves such a treadmill, is sometimes called true immersive VR.
The future of the fully-immersive VR
The next stage of virtual reality development seems quite clear. As soon as scientists will learn how to remotely transmit taste and smell, these inventions will boost the progress in VR. However, there’s another path for immersive technologies. What if scientists change their focus on simulating feelings rather than simulating stimuli? In other words, making users experience a specific feeling without applying external stimuli.
Scientists can apply neurostimulation to allow users to feel what they currently can’t feel with today’s fully-immersive apps. For example, connected to a human brain, future VR systems will be able to provide thermal feedback using neurofeedback. It sounds unreal, right? In fact, projects, which imply connecting a computer to a human brain, already are under development. Is fully-immersive VR possible? – Undoubtedly.
“If we have millions of people with a high bandwidth link to the AI extension of themselves it would make everyone hyper smart”, Elon Musk
One of them is Neuralink announced by Elon Musk, the CEO and co-founder of Tesla. In his interview for Daily Mail, he claimed the technology to be ready in a decade. With neurosystems connected to a human brain with an implanted “chip and a bunch of tiny wires”, users will be able to navigate through virtual environments with the power of thoughts. Perhaps, neural interfaces will also simulate a smell, taste, and tactile feedback.
As for now, the only solution is electroencephalography (EEG). Non-invasive EEG systems can process electrical impulses of the human brain. Combined with a fully-immersive VR app, EEG can determine such human emotions as sadness, happiness, or boredom. Using this data, a VR system can adjust a computer-generated environment to provide an engaging experience. Some companies are currently working on similar solutions.
“What if you could just think about what you wanted to do and it happened? Wouldn’t that change how you play games?”, Mike Ambinder, an experimental psychologist at Valve
A startup Neurable builds a system with neural interfaces that can be connected to a VR headset, for example, HTC Vive. In 2018, they presented the first mind-controlled VR game called Awakening. Their EEG system retrieves human brain signals and transforms them into commands on AR and VR devices. Neurable’s technology allows users to play a VR game and drive a car using the power of their thoughts.
Obviously, the VR gaming industry will significantly benefit from electroencephalography. Unfortunately, this technology is hard to implement because VR systems should accurately distinguish suitable brain signals among all neural impulses in our heads. Furthermore, processing and reacting should be extremely fast to avoid lags that can affect the sense of immersion. However, fully-immersive virtual reality will soon be that realistic we can only imagine.