Other Input Devices
Author: Jerry Smith
If aliens were to draw pictures of what they thought humans
looked liked based only on the input and output devices used
with our computer technology they would probably draw spider like
images of creatures with two eyes and five fingers.
Unfortunately for the virtual reality industry, humans have quite
a few other body parts that will need to produce output and
receive input. To achieve a true sense of immersion, virtual
reality systems will need to put humans 'into' the computer.
Currently, virtual reality systems are made of a computer, a
stereoscopic headmouted display, and a glove lined with sensors
to allow the user a means of manipulating the virtual
environment. Using the old analogy of a computer as a window to
another world, we can see that current virtual reality systems
have only opened the window far enough to allow users to reach
into the window, not far enough to actually get inside the other
world. As a noted philosopher once said, "The mind can only go
where the body takes it". And without a body, users exercise
only limited amounts of their skill and control in these computer
Surprisingly, only a handful of products and research exist to
develop virtual reality into a totally immersive environment by
creating input devices for next-generation VR systems. These
hardy trailblazers come from diverse backgrounds, some computer
engineers, some behavioral scientists, and some actors and
puppeteers. Indeed, it seems the ideal degree program for an
alternative input device designer would include a heavy course
load in physiology, psychology, acting (or puppeteering or
dance), computer hardware, and computer graphics.
A few of the most popular or unusual devices currently available
(or in research) follow:
DataSuit (VPL Research)
Using the same fiber optic flex-sensing technology made popular
in the VPL DataGlove, this full body suit can track the movement
of the arms, legs, feet, and torso with up to fifty different
sensors on the users joints and with four Polhemus trackers
(position sensors). The DataSuit is not yet commercially
available due to the complex calibration process the suit must go
through for each new user.
Dozo (Kleiser-Walczak Construction Company)
This 3-D demonstration video used video motion analysis to tape
the movements of a real person and then to translate the motions
onto a computer-generated rock star. The video runs three and a
half minutes and is modeled as a music video. The motion is
captured with video cameras linked to image processors. Special
reflective material are attached to the actor's (in this case a
dancer's) joints and limbs. As the actor moves the changes at
those points are recorded and fed to the computers.
High Cycle (Autodesk)
Connecting sensors to a stationary bicycle allowed Autodesk's
High Cycle to give users a more enjoyable workout. Wearing VPL
eyephones, users would pedal the stationary bicycle through a
virtual landscape. If they pedaled fast enough they would rise
off of the landscape and fly above the virtual horizon. The
handle bars also allowed users to steer in the virtual world.
Tarbo (The Character Shop)
Waldo is actually a cartoon dinosaur with a unique ability to
mimic human facial expressions. He does this with the aide of an
input device that tracks the movement of a human's face and
translates that movement into analogous movement for Tarbo's
face. A user would were a head-mounted device that uses several
sensors to track the movements of various facial muscles and the
VIDEOPLACE (Univ. of Utah)
This unique project used the user's shadow as the input device to
control the simulation. VIDEOPLACE would capture a user's body
image with a video camera. The user could paint on the screen by
simply waving a hand around. In another simulation and the Univ.
of Utah an animated cartoon character (called CRITTER) would
climb around on the virtual shadow.
Virtual Racquetball (Autodesk)
By attaching position and orientation sensors on a racquetball
racket, Autodesk created a computerized racquetball game that
allowed players to use real racquetball rackets as their input
devices. The players could play virtual racquetball from
thousands of miles away using phone lines.
Aukstakalnis, S., & Blatner, D. (1992). Silicon Mirage: The Art
& Science of Virtual Reality. Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press.
Gelernter, D. (1991). Mirror Worlds.
New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Pimentel, K., Teixeira, K. (1992). Through the New Looking Glass.
New York, NY: Intel Press.
Rheingold H. (1991). Virtual Reality. New York, NY: Summit Books.
Human Interface Technology Laboratory