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Microsoft DreamWalker turns your daily commute into a VR experience


Microsoft’s new twist on Virtual Reality could be a game changer that helps bring VR, not just AR, into the real world and changes the gaming experience forever.


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The Matrix is real, and it’s everywhere. But in some bizarre twist, for now at least, I’m not talking about large number of people being brain-jacked into a virtual world like the one in the film, although that is a technology that companies like Elon Musk’s Neuralink and Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook are trying to develop, I’m talking about Microsoft’s new DreamWalker product.

Using Virtual Reality (VR), Microsoft is seeking to change the idea of the daily commute by immersing VR users in a virtual world as they walk through real-world environments on their way to work, school or a café on foot. Slightly confused? Yeah, me too, so watch the video and you’ll get the idea.


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In their recently published paper, researchers Jackie Yang, Eyal Ofek, Andy Wilson and Christian Holz entertain the idea of “a future in which people spend considerably more time in virtual reality, even during moments when they walk between locations in the real world.”


See the tech in action

To do so, they created a VR system that allows its users to navigate the real world on foot while simultaneously seeing themselves strolling around in a place of their choosing in the VR world. And they named this VR system DreamWalker.

As reported by Ars Technica the new system, which can be used to alleviate boredom on your way to work as well as create an interesting genre of new game experiences, is supposed to keep users fully immersed in the virtual world despite real world obstacles. To do that, DreamWalker is designed to find a path in the chosen VR environment that’s similar to the one the user is walking along in the real world.


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It’s also designed with its own tracking system, which utilizes GPS locations, inside-out tracking and RGBD frames to guide users to stay on the right path, help them avoid obstacles and get them to their destinations, all while keeping them immersed in a dynamically changing VR world.

The team has gone so far as to test the system on eight participants, as seen in the video posted by Microsoft Research. These participants were asked to walk across the Microsoft campus along a 15 minute route while strolling around Manhattan in the VR world.

Of course, this VR system has a long way to go before it sees the light of day. In its current version, the VR scenes in DreamWalker aren’t exactly a more picturesque alternative to the real world, with unrealistic graphics not unlike The Sims video game series. This isn’t like in the movies, folks. At least, not yet. But as computing power improves and new VR enabling technologies such as cloud based rendering, like the one from Nvidia I talked about recently, Foveated Rendering from Facebook, and 5G start making an appearance, in the future you’ll likely have trouble telling one world from another as the quality of the new, artificial world improves.


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Although that said one of the biggest hurdles to the technology’s adoption in the real world would be the consequence of what happens if someone gets hit by a car while using it, but all that said, it’s a very interesting technology and a superb twist on VR so hopefully it makes it out of the labs and into production.

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