Multi-user globe projects perfect images from any angle

Virtual reality gaming is undoubtedly fun, but wouldn’t it be a lot more fun if you had someone to play with? Up until now, the least realistic part about VR has been that people have to experience it alone, most often donning a headset that isolates the user in his or her own little world. That’s about to change, though, as Canadian researchers have invented a “globe” social VR that allows two players at the same time.

A team from the University of British Columbia and the University of Saskatchewan has produced a 3D display with a perfect image no matter where you stand. “When you look at our globe, the 3D illusion is rich and correct from any angle,” lead researcher Sidney Fels said. “This allows two users to use the display to do some sort of collaborative task or enjoy a multiplayer game, while being in the same space. It’s one of the very first spherical VR systems with this capability.”

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The 60-centimetre spherical display, called Crystal, contains four high-speed projectors, plus calibration and touch sensors. Not content to stop at two users, the researchers are developing a four-user model, useful for more than just gaming.

“Imagine a remote user joining a meeting of local users,” team member Ian Stavness said. “At either location you can have a Crystal globe, which is great for seeing people’s heads and faces in 3D. Or you can have a team of industrial designers in a room, perfecting a design with the help of VR and motion tracking technology.”

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The team said that potential applications for Crystal could be VR-aided learning and VR surgery in addition to multiplayer gaming. Crystal’s creators have high hopes for its potential.

“We’re not saying that spherical VR will replace flat screens or headsets,” Fels said, “but we think it can be a good option for VR activities where you still want to see and talk to other people — be it at home or in the office, for work or play.”