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Hardwired: #VirtualReality Devices and #Drones

Posted on January 12th, 2016

#HardwiredNYC

01/12/2016 @ WeWork, 115 W 18th St, NY

Four companies talked about virtual reality devices and flying drones

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Nicholas Horbaczewski and Ryan Gury, CEO and Director of Product at The Drone Racing League (drone racing sports league)

Amir Rubin, Founder and CEO of Paracosm (cloud-based 3D mapping)

Andre Lorenceau, Founder & CEO of LiveLike (VR sports broadcasting)

Jan Goetgeluk, Founder and CEO of Virtuix (immersive virtual reality system)

In the first presentation, Andre Lorenceau & Jeremie Lasnier @Livelike spoke about developing a system so sports fans at home can view the game as if they were in the stadium. Their system will eventually allow fans at home to use a virtual reality headset to look around the space and do on-demand access of other views of the game.

Their system is designed to use current in-stadium video streams (the ability to see different parts of the playing field will initially be based on a single feed from a wide-angle camera at midfield), but be upgradable as new in-stadium, streaming technology is rolled out. (This differentiates them from NextVR which is building a streaming platform from the ground-up)

Andre and Jeremie talked about the challenges in getting VR right. One of the challenges is lack of a standard controller with different controllers specifying different gestures for similar functions. Interacting with a touch pad may not be correct in some circumstances, while pressing a virtual touchpad may be hard to do. Monitoring one’s gaze may work in some cases, but they need to avoid unwanted changes in the video when starring at parts of the action.

On the up side, there are many new opportunities to enhance as well as monetize the experience. Electronic placement of ads and user services are a possibility. These could be similar to the lines superimposed on the field during football broadcasts or they could be virtual objects moving through the space (they showed a video in which a Star Wars ship flew over the playing field).

In the second presentation, Nicholas Horbaczewski and Ryan Gury @DroneRacingLeague spoke about their soon-to-launched drone racing series. In these competitions, professional drone pilots will fly standardized drones over a race course. The fliers will wear goggles showing a video feed from the drone as the drones fly at over 80 miles per hour. The course will take less than 2 minutes to fly with winners determined by their performance over a series of heats.

Nicholas and Ryan spoke about their tuneup races held in Yonkers and in Sun Life Stadium in Miami. They prepare 80 to 100 rigs prior to the competition with all rigs made with the same hardware, but tuned to the liking of each competitor. They talked about five keys to a successful race

  1. Performance – drones are constructed from the highest quality parts with multiple identical rigs provided to each competitor for the four day event – includes practice, preliminary heats, finals
  2. Visibility – the sport is a spectator sport so the drones need to be visible from the ground. To do this, each drone is covered with high intensity lights with each participant identified by a different color.
  3. Pit crew – drones must be able to withstand crashes with minimal damage, so they can be repaired quickly. Everything needs to be tested.
  4. Stability – Due to the number of drones needed, each needs to be assembled and tested quickly. This necessitates maximal use of circuit boards and minimal wiring. Drones also have a large number of customizable settings.
  5. Radios – use analog video feeds to the pilots. (digital video has latency and also drops frames) they need to install a robust network for communications throughout the course even as it snakes through tunnels and around obstacles.

Returning to VR, Amir Rubin @Paracosm talked about the software his company produces to take a point cloud extracted from the physical world and create a picture of the surfaces that can be used to create a virtual world.

He first talked about why an accurate picture of the world is needed to create a truly immersive game to insure the following are true of the experience.

  1. Need correct perspective & occlusion
  2. World locking – persistence in physical world, no jitter
  3. interactions – shadows, physics, path planning

to solve these issues one needs to

  1. know shape and geometry of the world –
  2. know where I am in the world

Paracosm takes coordinates of objects extracted from the world using remote sensing devices such as the Kinect or RealSense (Project Tango) and sends them offline for processing to create a model of a space detailing walls furniture and other interior content. The offline processing removes the extra mesh points that explode memory and slow down processing (for instance the Project
Tango by itself cannot retain all the points is sees so it culls them, thereby limiting the scope of any game played on it). The refined set of points is then returned to the device (in this case the Project Tango) to serve as the framework for the augmented reality world.

Once this is done, the device can create characters that appear to interact correctly with the real world or superimpose data or views on the real world.

This offline processing makes a more true-to-life augmented reality game, but cannot react quickly if objects move in the space. This means that consumer product is still in the future. For this reason, Paracosm is concentrating on commercial engineering applications which would only involve static items.

In the final presentation, Jan Goetgeluk @ Virtuix talked about the Omni, which his company produces. The Omni allows you to walk around in the virtual world in a device that looks like a toddler’s walker. The device holds you in place, but allows you to walk in any direction (an omni-directional treadmill). The device will be sold starting this month for $699 and has no moving parts to track you footsteps.

Jan talked about his personal journey from Belgium, to the U.S., to Rice University, to investment banking, to entrepreneur. He talked about how it has taken him 8 years to come to production including three rounds of fund raising totaling 8mm USD. He talked about the delays and challenges even for a product that had early enthusiastic support from the gaming community, Kickstarter and Shark Tank.

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