I recently attended Dave Needle’s memorial service in his home town of Alameda which is just south of Oakland in the eastern San Francisco Bay area of California. Although it was a sombre occasion it was good to see the large number of people who turned out to commemorate and celebrate Dave’s life. One thing that always impresses me when I visit San Francisco is the sheer amount of innovation and ground breaking development that appears to be happening on almost every street corner. On first glance it seems like everyone is either working for Google, Apple or Facebook or one of the dozens of other high-tech international digital businesses headquartered in the Valley, or perhaps they are part of a new disruptive high-tech startup looking to knock the digital giants from their lofty perches.
If you have ever watched the US TV sitcom, Silicon Valley, you will have an understanding of the technology, competition and money that is concentrated in the Santa Clara Valley, which accounts for one-third of all venture capital investments in the USA. It was interesting therefore to attend Dave Needle’s evening memorial party at The Gate, a 750,000 ft2 (~70,000 m2) creative space for the Art, Tech and Maker community based at the West Gate Center in San Leandro which forms part of a 24-acre property that has been transformed into a unique accelerator and incubator hub. The evening event was organised by Tracey McSherry, one of Dave’s long time friends and work colleagues. Tracy is the CEO of PhaseSpace who are leaders in highly accurate real-time motion tracking and position sensing technology.
Since Tracey’s company is located at The Gate we got to test some of their latest 3D VR technology that Dave Needle had helped create. I, along with Michael Battilana of Cloanto, technology blogger Adam Spring and experienced IT specialist and Amiga enthusiasts Chris Collins got to try out PhaseSpace’s Head Mounted Display (HMD) and tracking technology by shooting swarms of alien space bots in a 360 degree 3D virtual world. It was great fun but I don’t think Adam was too impressed when I decided to stop shooting the space bots and began targeting his 3D virtual Avatar. 😉 Best of all, I experienced none of the usual motion sickness I usually get when I’ve tried VR headsets in the past. In truth, I’m a really good candidate for testing virtual reality sickness effects, or cybersickness as it’s now called. Even 3D first person shooters like Quake or Doom give me a queasy sick-headed feeling after a few minutes of play.
Several years ago I subscribed to the Oculus Rift Kickstarter project and purchased several headsets for AmigaOS 4 developers to play around with. I donated one of the prototype headsets to Hans de Ruiter, the developer behind A-EON Technology’s RadeonHD, Warp3D-SI and the new Warp3D Nova drivers for AmigaOS 4.1. Once he had set up the system, Hans invited me to explore one of the demo 3D virtual worlds supplied with the headset. After donning the Oculus Rift headset I was soon “walking” around a villa and garden in Tuscany. Although the head tracking was very good after about 10 minutes exploring the 3D virtual world, complete with birds, floating blossom and butterflies my “virtual” headache was real enough. The design of Oculus Rift headset has improved since those early days.
The resolution is much higher and the control software has been improved. Oculus has recently announced that early adopters of the original developer prototype will received one of the new retail models free of charge. I’ve arrange for this to be sent directly to the Frieden brothers for testing. However, not all cool 3D augmented reality technology is created in Silicon Valley. More recently I was liaising with MTech Games, a New Zealand game development company who were using a higher resolution version of the Oculus Rift headset combined with their augmented reality software to create an advanced powered wheelchair trainer to help train people who had recently suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury or had become tetraplegic by some other unfortunate life-changing event. According to the CEO Brook Walters, “For a person with tetraplegia their new life will revolve around a powered wheelchair. Whether it’s from an accident, cancer or a degenerative disease, these people will find themselves physically and emotionally challenged in ways they could not have anticipated.”
Apparently evidence has shown that people who participate in their own recovery drive their own rehabilitation and tend to have better outcomes. MTech’s solution was to create the equivalent of a flight simulator for wheelchair pilots where people learn and practice their wheelchair skills in a 3D virtual world to gain confidence before tacking real world situations like catching a bus or visiting the local supermarket. Again, I got to try an early prototype system and again my head was spinning after a few minutes of use. I did say I was a good test subject for cybersickness. 😉 Fortunately, the motion sickness effects have been greatly reduced in the latest software version.
Another Kiwi founded company whose technology is beginning to make a splash in Silicon Valley is 8i. It’s CEO, Linc Gasking and co-founder Eugene d’Eon, formerly of Weta Digital, are “on a mission to make virtual reality human” using their proprietary technology to bring real people into volumetric virtual experiences. According to Linc, “We transform HD video from multiple cameras into a fully volumetric recording of a human that viewers can walk around in virtual reality and augmented reality, or interact with on the web.” If that does not interest you, how about an Augmented Reality colouring book developed by the HIT Lab NZ at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. I attended a recent fundraising demo by QuiverVision, the company set up to commercialise the technology. I was amazed to see Quiver, an augmented reality app for the iPhone & iPad, bring the images on coloured pages to life. Really impressive. Another one for kids is GEO AR Games being developed in NZ by a company of the same name who have just entered the Lightning Lab XX business accelerator programme for companies with female led founders. The team is using Geospatial Augmented Reality to get kids more physically active by combining mobile gaming with the great outdoors. The aim is to get the kids exploring and running around real-world locations overlaid with Augmented virtual worlds via GPS on a smart phone or tablet.
Of course, virtual and augmented reality is nothing new. Way back in 1990 the Amiga 3000 powered Virtuality, the first dedicated, virtual reality gaming machines developed in Leicester, England by Dr. Jonathan D Waldern. Although I think the Star Trek holodeck is still some way off, it looks like 3D virtual and augmented reality technologies are finally evolving from virtual to reality. 😉 I’ll leave the final words for Tracy at PhaseSpace. “The whole point of VR is to make things that were impossible come to life. The actual reality has been a bit slower than hoped, but after working on this for 30 years, I’m very happy to see it’s all coming together.” It’s good to know that Dave Needle was contributing to this effort prior to his untimely demise. As for Doom, Christian Zigotzky, one of A-EON Technology’s very active Core Linux team, has just posted images of Dhewn 3 on his AmigaOne X1000 using SDL v2.0.4 on ubuntu MATE 16.04 PowerPC. Dhewm 3 is a 64-bit GPL source port of Doom 3 for Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and FreeBSD. Now we just need to get it running under AmigaOS!