Lure of the virtual world

With the spurt of startups and a gaming arcade dealing with Virtual Reality in the city, we find out why the technology is called the next revolution in computing technology

The air is rent with screams of delight and fright as a group of youngsters take a ride on the Fingercoaster at the popular gaming arcade Smaaash. The Fingercoaster is a virtual rollercoaster one can ride by creating their path on a board connected to the riding setup. Launched two years ago, the one of a kind arcade which offers a virtual reality experience has been getting a lot of positive response from its patrons, mostly comprising of youngsters.
The Virtual Reality (VR) at the arcade is just a slice of what to expect from the new age technology which transports you to another world or even galaxy, although technically speaking you might be standing in your living room.

When one talks about VR, it usually conjures up images of people wearing clunky headsets which are connected to the computer through a cable. In a VR environment, a user feels that he/she is inside and part of that world through motion tracking and the images they see. This is achieved through the use of head mounted displays (HMDs) such as Occulus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream View etc. Besides these, there are mobile headsets too which turn your smartphone into a VR device.

VR boom

Many homegrown startups in the city are also dabbling in the VR field and experimenting with software that takes it beyond gaming and entertainment. Hyderabad-based startup Merxius has created a tool which lets one convert their 3D models into Virtual Reality. “It’s called RED or a RealSim Editor, basically it is like photoshop for virtual reality. It was initially meant for the real estate market where a client could see how the apartment would look by simulation. But now we are trying to make it accessible to the public as well, although access to the hardware for the public is not that easy,” says Vaishali Neotia, CEO, Merxius, adding, “the RED tool is being tested by the armed forces towards engine maintenance.

Virtual Reality

Working along similar lines is the startup Loop Reality which combines fitness with VR through their product LoopFit. “We observed that many people don’t get the time to workout outdoors even though they want to. This way, all they have to do is put on the headset which is connected to the bicycle and start cycling in an environment which comes equipped with different terrains,” says Karthik KV, co-founder, Loop Reality. The team is now working on software that will help neurosurgeons visualise the location of tumors and decide the surgical procedures accordingly. The healthcare industry has been a big adopter of virtual reality-tech with some institutions using the computer-generated images for surgical training programmes and rehabilitative therapy. Gleneagles Global Hospitals in the city recently conducted a VR surgical training for doctors and students across the country in February. “It was a laparoscopy surgery done by urologists which was watched by students wearing VR headsets. VR in medicine can help surgeons decide what kind of surgical procedure to do ahead of time and help students familiarise with the process and operating room virtually. But with VR, one has to ensure that the camera is positioned properly with motion tracking otherwise it won’t work as it should,” says Mallikarjuna Reddy, paediatric and laparoscopic urologist at Global Hospitals who collaborated with the startup Health Connect Digital for the conference.

Challenges ahead

While it may all sound simple in theory, there are some pitfalls to the technology too. Despite the high tech software, even a slight snag in the visual components can cause VR sickness, similar to motion sickness. But developers say while that problem has been solved; access to the hardware for the general public still remains an issue. “Unfortunately, the state government itself is a big obstacle for homegrown startups like ours who make even getting the smallest components for our developing works difficult. Even though our product is available to use for the public, very few have the hardware to use it since it’s quite pricey. If we want to provide the hardware device, it becomes too expensive in the long run,” rues Vaishali of Merxius.

Virtual Reality

With varied sectors such as defence, space, automotive, education, tourism, retail jumping on to the VR Bandwagon, virtual reality is definitely here to stay.

VR for dummies

VR headsets have two tiny screens which manipulate the user’s brain by feeding carefully altered images to each eye that makes one think they are looking at a three dimensional world. Most HMD’s take the same form, but how they project the imaging varies. Right now what most VR developers are aiming for is total immersion where the VR experience is so real that you forget there is a computer, accessories and headgear and act like we do in the real world.

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