Sensors

Figure 2.9: Inertial measurement units (IMUs) have gone from large, heavy mechanical systems to cheap, microscopic MEMS circuits. (a) The LN-3 Inertial Navigation System, developed in the 1960s by Litton Industries. (b) The internal structures of a MEMS gyroscope, for which the total width is less than 1mm.
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Consider the input side of the VR hardware. A brief overview is given here, until Chapter 9 covers sensors and tracking systems in detail. For visual and auditory body-mounted displays, the position and orientation of the sense organ must be tracked by sensors to appropriately adapt the stimulus. The orientation part is usually accomplished by an inertial measurement unit or IMU. The main component is a gyroscope, which measures its own rate of rotation; the rate is referred to as angular velocity and has three components. Measurements from the gyroscope are integrated over time to obtain an estimate of the cumulative change in orientation. The resulting error, called drift error, would gradually grow unless other sensors are used. To reduce drift error, IMUs also contain an accelerometer and possibly a magnetometer. Over the years, IMUs have gone from existing only as large mechanical systems in aircraft and missiles to being tiny devices inside of smartphones; see Figure 2.9. Due to their small size, weight, and cost, IMUs can be easily embedded in wearable devices. They are one of the most important enabling technologies for the current generation of VR headsets and are mainly used for tracking the user's head orientation.

Figure 2.10: (a) The Microsoft Kinect sensor gathers both an ordinary RGB image and a depth map (the distance away from the sensor for each pixel). (b) The depth is determined by observing the locations of projected IR dots in an image obtained from an IR camera.
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Digital cameras provide another critical source of information for tracking systems. Like IMUs, they have become increasingly cheap and portable due to the smartphone industry, while at the same time improving in image quality. Cameras enable tracking approaches that exploit line-of-sight visibility. The idea is to identify features or markers in the image that serve as reference points for an moving object or a stationary background. Such visibility constraints severely limit the possible object positions and orientations. Standard cameras passively form an image by focusing the light through an optical system, much like the human eye. Once the camera calibration parameters are known, an observed marker is known to lie along a ray in space. Cameras are commonly used to track eyes, heads, hands, entire human bodies, and any other objects in the physical world. One of the main challenges at present is to obtain reliable and accurate performance without placing special markers on the user or objects around the scene.

As opposed to standard cameras, depth cameras work actively by projecting light into the scene and then observing its reflection in the image. This is typically done in the infrared (IR) spectrum so that humans do not notice; see Figure 2.10.

In addition to these sensors, we rely heavily on good-old mechanical switches and potientiometers to create keyboards and game controllers. An optical mouse is also commonly used. One advantage of these familiar devices is that users can rapidly input data or control their characters by leveraging their existing training. A disadvantage is that they might be hard to find or interact with if their faces are covered by a headset.

Steven M LaValle 2016-12-31