PhaseSpace and Motion Technologies at VRLA 2018

phasespace

At VRLA 2018, a company called PhaseSpace demonstrated its multi-player VR gaming system. The game was Black Badge Outpost by Motion Technologies, in which players are crew members of an outpost on an alien planet fighting virus-infected robots—you know, a typical day at work.

Within a 25×25-foot area, each participant wore an Oculus Rift headset tethered to a backpack with a portable computer. They also wore a haptic vest and carried a VR gun, which operates wirelessly. Industrial scaffolding above the game field held 24 cameras mounted around the perimeter. The cameras tracked the bright-red LEDs on the headsets and guns. Each of the backpack computers ran its own instance of the game synchronized by a master computer that communicated with the backpack computers via Wi-Fi.

The system was originally developed—and paid for—by the US Army and Navy. There are now over 500 similar systems installed at over 200 universities to be used for research into VR and robotics. For example, there’s a 60×90-foot system at the University of Southern California. And the VR Park at the Dubai Mall has 21 such systems for entertainment purposes. The system can accommodate up to eight participants at a time.

I was particularly interested in the haptic vest. (“Haptic” refers to the sense of touch.) It includes vibration actuators with 17 different types of vibration that include an indication of the direction of impact. So, if you get shot or punched in the torso by one of the killer robots, you feel it. Likewise, the gun includes a haptic element that activates when you shoot, providing realistic tactile feedback.

There were a few fans blowing air into the game field, undoubtedly to simulate wind. In addition, the system can provide heat, water, and even earthquakes with a properly equipped floor, though these were not implemented in the VRLA demo.

I didn’t suit up for the demo, but it was quite fun watching others stalk the evil robots. At one point, the four participants huddled together; when I asked a company rep what they were doing, he said they had gotten into an elevator.

Obviously, few people will install the PhaseSpace system in their homes. But it does illustrate how far VR has come. I wouldn’t be surprised to find such a system at VR-experience centers, which seem to be cropping up here and there.

The Motion Technologies website has more info about the system I saw at VRLA; click here to check it out.