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Disney Experiments with Virtual Reality Interactions

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Virtual reality is slowly starting to become a promising future for the digital world, even for the big boys like Walt Disney. Despite VR being in its infancy with the Oculus Rift and Playstation VR headsets being the biggest ones on the market, it is becoming a growing phenomenon. With its most recent box office success, Beauty and the Beast, it feels like the right time for Disney Research to start venturing into dynamic object interactions in VR.


So what did they do? They were able to blend real-world objects and virtual reality together by having someone catch a real ball in virtual reality. A video of the experiment was shared of a person wearing a VR headset catching the ball being thrown to him. The trick is, he isn’t reacting to the real ball – what he’s seeing is a virtual ball that corresponds with the real one. In order to capture these visualisations, they used an OptiTrack Flex 13 to track the movement of the ball, and the catcher’s hands and head at approximately 120 frames per second.

“The system predicts the future trajectory of the ball as it undergoes projectile motion, and render a virtual scene to display the ball’s location as well as any assistive cues.” – a statement from the Disney Research PDF that outlined the experiment.

If you are unfamiliar with virtual reality technology, the VR headset being used is the Oculus Rift, and the Disney Research team implemented Unity software to create the layout of the virtual landscape. The experiment proved successful. However, what must be taken into account is the latency in the system, meaning the virtual representation of the hand movements and ball are not exactly accurate because of the rendering. This makes it so much more difficult to coordinate, yet they managed to pull it off.

“It appears that while small latencies exist in our system and objects such as user’s hands are rendered abstractly, our system allows users to be quite adept at catching balls while in VR. Thus, combining virtual and physical dynamic interactions to enrich virtual reality experiences is feasible.”

This isn’t the first experiment between real world objects and VR. The release of the HTC Vive Trackers that can make any real world object connected to virtual reality – like a remote controller. As it stars to become bigger, it isn’t hard to imagine what virtual reality will do for games, science, daily activities and education as it slowly molds itself to the real world.