Why breaking the one metre barrier is key to unlocking the true potential of VR

Much like Twitter’s original 140 character limit, the vergence accommodation conflict (VAC) is responsible for one of the defining limitations of VR content today, ‘the one metre barrier’.

So what is the problem? It is uncomfortable to spend time up close and personal in a VR environment because of the decoupling of the natural vergence and accommodation responses in our eyes. As objects get closer, our eyes naturally turn inwards to triangulate with the object they are looking at. The natural response to this convergence is to stimulate the lenses in our eyes to change focus.

Today's headsets decouple this natural response because the lenses in the headset are set at a fixed focal distance. Our eyes are simply not fooled by the clever software manipulation of the image. The focal length within the system is fixed and our eyes know it.

This phenomenon has meant that across the entire spectrum of VR content, creators have been forced to put up an invisible boundary to keep the action and engagement outside of arm's reach, beyond a metre.

Why is this an issue?

There are 23 visual cues that make up our perception of 3D space in the real world. Delivering a fully immersive, believable VR experience means addressing as many of them as possible. Upgrading software and screen resolution has the potential to improve 18 of these cues but in order to deliver a fully immersive visual experience, the remaining 5 cues need to be engaged. To do that, we need to stimulate our eyes natural accommodative response.

Why is it important to break the one metre barrier?

Much has been said about VAC over the years and from an industry perspective, it’s important to re-frame the way we think about it. The inability to engage all our 23 natural visual cues and bring objects closer greatly limits immersiveness and blocks the true creative potential of VR for consumer and commercial uses.

For game developers, a digital barrier between the viewer and the story is a major creative limitation. Exploring mythical worlds in Skyrim VR or the mysteries of Croft Manor in Rise of the Tomb Raider might be extraordinary experiences, but in these scenarios the VR headset is little more than a screen on your face.

Believability comes from immersion that feels like the real world. Yet at the minute, you cannot take full advantage of a headset if you are unable to, for example, pick up objects in these games and closely inspect them to discover narrative critical clues. Imagine what immersive universe developers could construct if they could bring the world closer.

Enterprise VR has been doing well, in the healthcare sector VR has been used for patient therapy, visualisation and training, and researchers have projected that the global AR/VR healthcare market will reach US$5.1b by 2025 (Grand View Research). Despite this, enterprise VR software developers are experiencing the same limitations as their creative counterparts. Solving the one metre barrier for enterprise use would not just build the VR ecosystem, but may also advance markets in crucial sectors such as healthcare and engineering.

How do we solve this problem?

Software and hardware can’t fix the one metre barrier: this issue needs a dynamic optical solution. We use SEE (stimulated eye engagement) technology to activate the eyes natural accommodative response allowing the lenses in your eye to accommodate exactly as they would in the real world.

We are world leaders in both Alvarez Shift and dynamic non-round fluid lens technologies. Both technologies dynamically move to change the power of the lenses, just like the human eye.

The discussion should  not be about solving VAC it should be about the opportunity to bring a real step change in immersion and the ability to bring content within one metre.

If we are to fully develop the VR market potential, and unlock new enterprise and entertainment opportunities we must offer truly immersive experiences - the only way to do that is by fully engaging our brilliantly complex visual system.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data ExpoCyber Security & Cloud Expo and 5G Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.

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