Low Cost Virtual Reality and its Application to Chemical Engineering - Part Two John T. Bell & H. Scott Fogler University of Michigan June 1995
Introduction and Update from Part One This article has been broken up into two parts, the first of which presented an introduction to virtual reality and some discussion of what low-cost hardware and software options are available3. This second part will cover some applications of virtual reality, including areas where VR is being or could be applied to chemical engineering, and in particular the work being done at the University of Michigan’s department of Chemical Engineering to apply low-cost virtual reality to undergraduate education. First of all, however, it is necessary to address a few issues which have changed substantially since part one was written. The fact that so much has changed in just six months is typical of this rapidly developing field. • Sourceless trackers improving and gaining in popularity15: Part one of this article discussed head trackers costing hundreds or thousands of dollars which utilize a transmitter and receiver combination, ( either electromagnetic or ultrasonic ), to track the position and orientation of a users head, and mentioned the existence of sourceless trackers. These latter devices, which incorporate gravimetric tilt sensors, compasses, gyroscopes, and other selfcontained sensors are termed “sourceless” because they are entirely self contained, which eliminates some of the clutter of a VR setup, and avoids the interference problem when multiple sensors are used in close proximity. These sensors are much less expensive to produce, and have become quite popular, particularly as a 3 degree of freedom ( rotation only ) sensor for tracking head movements of a seated user, because the position of the head does not change appreciably in that environment. HMDs available for $800 with built-in head tracker: In the first part of this article a low-cost head mounted display was one which cost only a few thousand dollars, such as the CyberEye from General Reality Company, which then also required the separate purchase of a head tracking device of some kind. While that solution is still available, and is a good quality device, a new product has recently hit the market which has won many awards and much praise from the virtual reality industry. That product is the i-Glasses, from Virtual I/O inc., which weighs in at just 8 ounces and fits in your pocket for color
13 stereo viewing and built-in 3 DOF tracking for only $800. i-Glasses are the first product offered by this fledgling company, and other ( e.g. VGA ) products are expected within a year. Zwern20 provides a good review of available head-mounted display devices. • New low-cost wired gloves available and others announced: Part one discussed the Nintendo Powerglove, a discontinued toy accessory which some homebrew VR enthusiasts have wired into their computers, and also mentioned the existence of more advanced gloves costing thousands of dollars based on fiber optics technology. Two announcements have been made within the last month regarding the availability of new low-cost wired gloves. First of all, Arthur Zwern, of General Reality Company, announced the U.S. availability of a fiberoptic glove produced by Fifth Dimension, with an introductory price of $495, and a quality equivalent to the original fiber-optic gloves produced by the ( now-defunct? ) VPL corporation. The second announcement was by Chris Gentile, of Abrams/Gentile Entertainment, the manufacturers and patent holders of the discontinued Nintendo PowerGlove. AGE announced the development of a “PC PowerGlove”, to be available in 1996 for less than $120, with much higher resolution and better features than the Nintendo PowerGlove, and pre-configured to connect to a PC serial port. Special options...