When Learning Is Too Dangerous
Have you ever dreamed of learning a new skill, but you were afraid of injury or exerting too much effort? That’s how I felt when I used to dream about juggling. Yes, tossing any imaginable assortment of objects into the air and be the commander of their trajectory. But alas, all my years studying physics had ingrained in me a fear of accelerating objects and their devastating effects. I was afraid.
. . . until I found virtual reality.
Virtual Training Environments
A hot topic in the current VR research community is creating virtual spaces that allow one to freely experiment and learn new skills. The options are without bound. My fear of large quantities of small objects falling from the sky prevented me from exploring the world of juggling. Yet, as seen in the video below, virtual reality allowed me to learn in a safe virtual space.
Here is what’s going on:
- This project was written in the Unity3D game engine.
- The programs responsible for translating my movements were written in the C# programming language. The primary libraries used were Unity’s framework (of course) and the SteamVR Unity plugin’s library for interfacing with the HTC Vive.
- The thing blocking my eyes is the HTC Vive, which allows me to enter virtual worlds after I create them.
- Attached to my arms are a total of four Inertial Measurement Units (IMU). Their job is to provide spatial orientation information. Each arm has two IMU’s and an Arduino.
- Each hand has bend sensors on the fingers. (well, only one finger per hand in this video. That’s what I get for only taking one video before the project was finished)
Watch the Laptop Screen:
- Even with the professional quality video, it may be hard to see what is going on. As far as I’m aware (in the video), I am a robot in a strange world of floating red balls. Furthermore, the red balls become green when a grab them with my new virtual hands. I’m able to pick them up and toss them around without needing to hold a controller. I can see my virtual body, my virtual arms, and my virtual hands move exactly as I do. I could not tell you the number of times I hit the walls of that office while juggling in my virtual world (enough).
Below is a higher-quality demo of the project given by Andres Calvo, my advisor on the project and Master’s student at the Media Lab. Thanks Andres!
Acknowledgments: Shoutout to Andres Calvo and John Busche for making this project possible! Two of the best team members I’ve ever been fortunate enough to have.