Last week I held down the fort in the Bay Area while the rest of the team hit the road in Europe (expect an IFA Berlin recap on this here blog very soon).
In an effort to combat loneliness and better familiarize myself with what is going on in the world of VR, I headed an hour south to Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. Stanford has been dedicated to the study of human empathy and VR since well before Palmer Luckey or Oculus were household names.
Myself, a friend/employee of the University and a couple of VR n00bz made up a small group touring the lab that day, and things started off with a quick exercise to test the presence of the lab.
“Presense” of course, is the industry term that acts as a lose measurement for how effective a VR experience immerses its subject. Oculus’s chief scientist Michael Abrash laid out several requirements for achieving presence last year, including: field of view, resolution, low pixel persistence, high refresh rate, optics/optical calibration, tracking and low latency.
Needless to say, with it’s open room floor plan, server room, optical cameras and sensors and 16 subwoofers below the floor to achieve immersive vibrations, presence was achieved. We all took turns wearing the Oculus DK 2 and starting in an identical virtual room to the one we were in. Only difference was at the press of a button from our guide, the walls fell down and I was raised several stories up on a small platform with a narrow blank in front of me. I had been in the VR world before, and was proving to be much braver (read: cockier) than others in the demo who legitimately feared for their safety.
I get a lesson in human empathy and VR. Rendered as an African American avitar, I get given the business from Boss Whitey as he lays down some serious racial degradation in the workplace.
That’s when I got got by our guide, who after instructing me to jump off the roof of the building, surprised me by making me crash through the street and free fall into a trippy space continuum. I was audibly terrified for a brief moment.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Stanford’s work as how much they are learning about the human empathy element of VR. One of our guests took part in an exercise where you are a Super hero capable of flying through a urban downtown in search of a missing child. We later found out from our guide that those who had gone through this exercise were more likely to come to the rescue in tests where a box of pens was purposefully knocked to the floor. Interesting, and in full accordance with Spider Man Rule #1:
Empathy remained a theme as my next exercise was changing my appearance from a caucasian professional to an African-Americans before turning around to be berated by my would-be white employer. At the touch of a button, I then became curvy coed before being explained that most subjects find hyper-sexual avatars to be a discouraging look. (No comment here)
Here’s a new exercise that the lab has teamed up with Sesame Street for to teach social skills to little children:
Interesting Note: While Stanford has a license to meet recreated renders of Grover and Elmo, Sesame Street’s license does not allow for test subjects to embody their characters in the VR world!
As a sports nut, I naturally was very interested to see the Stanford football demo that features the work of STRIVR labs. With the Oculus back on my dome, I was taken under the shoulder pads of Stanford QB Kevin Hogan and doing virtual reps captured from real Stanford Football practices using 360-degree cameras in the backfield. Cool stuff! Even if it was not enough to prepare the Cardinal for its road opener against Northwestern.
Stepping into the Stanford huddle had this wash-up of a 7th grade starting QB reliving his Golden Age.
A big shoutout to the Stanford VHIL and our lovely guide Shawnee for allowing us to step into their Virtual palace!
-Spencer at VL