We finally have a workable virtual-reality platform, but plenty of obstacles are between us and a Star Trek-style holodeck.
If you reach out to touch a table, you’ll feel the molecules of that piece of furniture push against your hand. Do the same thing in virtual reality, and you’ll feel nothing. This is a problem — and it’s one of the few that Oculus VR says it has no idea how to solve.
The company held a keynote address as part of its annual Oculus Connect developers conference today, and it put on something of a parade of its top talent. Business-development leader Anna Sweet, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, and even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg all took the stage. But one of the more interesting points came when Oculus chef scientist Michael Abrash gave an in-depth speech about everything the company needs to do to go from where VR is today to where it should get to in the future.
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Abrash talked about improving the visuals with a wider field of view. He talked about providing 3D audio. He even speculated about creating a chemical-based way to deliver various smells to Rift users.
For every problem, he posed a solution that is either possible today or one that the company sees a way to work to in the future. Well, he did that for every problem except one.
Abrash pointed out that no one is even working on a technology that will make it feel like your hand is touching a table where no table exists.
This is something I asked Palmer Luckey about in a conversation we had a few months ago. He told me — and Abrash’s talk today reiterates this point — that the company wants to solve every aspect of VR. He essentially wants Oculus working on a way to fool every one of your senses. When I asked him about touching an object and feeling like it exists, that led us to the aforementioned Star Trek holodecks. That sci-fi technology manifests protons that it can give mass to. When I posed that idea to Luckey as a joke, I was surprised that he had already considered the idea.
“Photons are a dead-end,” said Luckey then.
So while Oculus doesn’t know what will work to make objects feel real in VR, it has already scratched one idea off the list.
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