I often get asked how I got into augmented reality development. I was kind of thrown into it when the lab I was working at started a project called ‘Medical AR’ with Qinetiq, USA who was looking to create an experience to rehabilitate military veterans who had lost limbs. The project was designed to encourage mobility around a fixed area while recording and rewarding ‘correct’ gait characteristics. Exercise interventions like this have shown that stepping exercises are an effective treatment method to improve postural stability and balance.
The main hardware in this included a Animazoo mocap suit, and an Oculus DK1 with retrofitted OVR cameras. We used the suit to track where you were stepping on the target, but overall the suit was cumbersome. No one wants to suit up every time they go to do this experience, and it always had to be “Northed” (facing in the North direction while calibrating) so it would track properly.
One of the struggles we had was getting the targets to feel like they were on the ground, instead of at chest height. A few key things I learned from this project when dealing with this issue included:
- Lighting and shadows are key to making something have weight on the physical ground.
- Occlusion matters to make things feel like they’re in the background. We did use occlusion when you stepped on the target so that you could see your foot on top of it, but the model wasn’t precise enough for everyone’s different shoes and shoe size.
- FOV matters when you don’t have peripheral vision. The Oculus had a 90 degree field of view at that point, and I attribute our struggles to the lack of peripheral vision considering you’re interacting with an object on the ground. Typically in the physical world, we don’t need to look down to see where we’re stepping. But with the HMD on and a blind spot below you, it was important to look down to see where you were stepping on the target.
I’m glad I was thrown into a project like this and have since been involved in many AR projects. Fortunately I’ve gotten to work with many different peripherals at this point, and look forward to whatever I get to work with next.