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Reading in VR-- for academics and others

Discussion in 'Works In Progress' started by GrumpyFour, Feb 15, 2016.

  1. GrumpyFour

    GrumpyFour

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2016
    Posts:
    17
    Hi all,

    My project is a set of virtual environments for academic reading. I've been using Unity and the Oculus Rift DK2. What is the point of the project, you ask? I admit it's an odd idea, but when it came to me I thought it worth investigating. Academics read a lot of documents off their monitors these days, and it's a terrible experience. Tablets are considerably better, and have good markup abilities these days as well. But I am betting that VR will be better still, and will have the added advantage of being more immersive (hence better for focus) than a standard computer or a tablet.

    The basic proposition is this: the app places you in a virtual environment that is pleasant and free of distractions. In front of you is an object (virtual book or page display) onto which is mapped a texture that is produced from a pdf file. Via a UI (controlled via a head-mounted cursor) you can turn pages, switch to different environments, and load pdf files from disk. (Still working on getting that last part working properly).

    At present the project has six different environments: a minimalist starting environment, a library reading room, a lakeside cabin porch, airship lounge, cozy room with a fireplace, and a room on a spaceship. I've used a combination of purchased assets, freebie assets and things I have made in Blender. And I've also benefited much from contributions from you all on various forums. When I started I knew nothing about Unity, Blender, or working in VR; it's amazing what the software has enabled me, a complete amateur, to do.

    If you know the DK2, you know that its screen resolution is not high enough for something like long-form reading. I'm pretty confident that eventually VR headsets will use more or less 'retina-display' screens, but I imagine that's a few years out. Basically, I've been working on the project as a proof of concept, in anticipation of the release of the final-spec Oculus next month. But the project is now far enough along that I can share it with you all.

    A screenshot of one of the environments is attached. More information on the project is available here:

    http://lacol.net/discipline​-virtual-reading-environment-at-amherst-college/

    Screen Shot2.jpg
     
  2. Schneider21

    Schneider21

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2014
    Posts:
    2,914
    My initial reaction to this was... well, rude. But then I thought about it a bit, and it actually started to seem like a neat little idea. Practical? Probably not. But niche and quaint and potentially deeply enjoyed by the right person. It would be kinda neat to display each loaded PDF as a virtual book on your bookshelf where you could make your selection, too. And a beach scene is a must, so that I can pretend to read while actually checking out the babes in bikinis walking past.

    I have to believe that long sessions of reading using a VR set would cause terrible eye strain. How much have you tested this yourself?

    One other advantage VR actually could have over tablets/phones/book readers (actually, even over physical medium) is the fact that the screen is always in front of your face. Instead of having the book in a normal position that you have to tilt your head downwards to read, what if the book was sort of strapped to your head, so you could read no matter what position your head was in? This may make reading a more enjoyable experience for people with disabilities that can't comfortably hold their heads in normal reading positions. Just a thought.
     
  3. GrumpyFour

    GrumpyFour

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2016
    Posts:
    17
    On the question of eye strain: yes, I think this will be an issue, one that isn't restricted to my project. I think everyone is going to have to deal with the question of whether too much time in VR is bad for eyesight. I imagine we will be hearing rather a lot about this as more people use the technology.

    Regarding the bikinis: well, remember that the idea is to have distraction-free environments, so that idea would be rather counterproductive for my purposes. There is an interesting issue in the vicinity here, though. I have played around with putting humanoid characters into the environments to avoid the feeling of being completely alone. Some of the results have been good, but there is the uncanny valley problem (they come across as zombies under some conditions) and also, the more realistic they become, the harder it is to maintain good framerates. So for now I've put that idea aside.

    I think you're right that this might make reading more accessible for people with disabilities. A completely hands-free control scheme would not be hard to implement; I'm anticipating integrating the Oculus remote when that's released, but I've also seen demos of a head-mounted UI that triggers actions when you just hover the cursor over the button long enough.

    There are lots of grace notes I can imagine, such as the idea you mention of different pdf files represented as individual books. Also page turning animations and suchlike. What a project like mine really needs is a standard way to implement a book (a real book, with cover imagery, metadata, page layout information and so on) in VR. I'd love to be able to just drop such items in, manipulate them as virtual objects, and be able to access their text.
     
  4. uglyapp

    uglyapp

    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2016
    Posts:
    14
    Hi

    How far did you get with this idea.

    I have the Samsung edge 7 if you send the app I can test it.

    I am also playing around with an app using beach scenes.

    Cheers

    Steve Warby
     
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