Hasso-Plattner-InstitutSDG am HPI
Hasso-Plattner-InstitutDSG am HPI

Sebastian Lennard Marwecki

Virtualizing Physical Space

The true cost for virtual reality is not the hardware, but the physical space it requires, as a one-to-one mapping of physical space to virtual space allows for the most immersive way of navigating in virtual reality. Such "real-walking" requires physical space to be of the same size and the same shape of the virtual world represented. This generally prevents real-walking applications from running on any space that they were not designed for. To reduce virtual reality's demand for physical space, creators of such applications let users navigate vir­tual space by means of a treadmill, altered mappings of physical to virtual space, hand-held controllers, or gesture-based techniques. While all of these solutions succeed at reducing virtual reality's demand for physical space, none of them reach the same level of immersion that real-walking provides. Our approach is to virtualize physical space: instead of accessing physical space directly, we allow appli­cations to express their need for space in an abstract way, which our software systems then map to the physical space available. We allow real-walking applications to run in spaces of different size, different shape, and in spaces containing different physical objects. We also allow users immersed in different vir­tual environments to share the same space. Our systems achieve this by using a tracking volume-independent representation of real-walking experi­ences - a graph structure that expresses the spatial and logical relationships between virtual locations, virtual elements contained within those locations, and user interactions with those elements. When run in a specific physical space, this graph representation is used to define a custom mapping of the elements of the virtual reality application and the physical space by parsing the graph using a constraint solver. To re-use space, our system splits virtual scenes and overlap virtual geometry. The system derives this split by means of hierarchically clustering of our virtual objects as nodes of our bi-partite directed graph that represents the logical ordering of events of the experience. We let applications express their demands for physical space and use pre-emptive scheduling between applications to have them share space. We pre­sent several application examples enabled by our system. They all enable real-walking, despite being mapped to physical spaces of different size and shape, containing different physical objects or other users. We see substantial real-world impact in our systems. Today's commercial virtual reality applications are generally designing to be navigated using less immersive solutions, as this allows them to be operated on any tracking volume. While this is a commercial necessity for the developers, it misses out on the higher immersion offered by real-walking. We let developers overcome this hurdle by allowing experiences to bring real-walking to any tracking volume, thus potentially bringing real-walking to consumers.