While Oculus has created immersive virtual 3D worlds inside the Rift headset, there isn’t much it can do with the actual world around the headset. However, that might change soon, as the Facebook-owned company announced the acquisition of computer vision startup Surreal Vision on Tuesday.
The deal could be the beginnings of Oculus’ bid to extend its virtual reality (VR) promise to actual reality, including technology that can map out users’ physical environment and replicate it digitally, to augmented reality (AR), which layers information over their view of the real world. Here’s what Surreal Vision may bring to Oculus’ table.
The Surreal Deal
The announcement describes the talent at Surreal Vision as “one of the top computer vision teams in the world focused on real-time 3D scene reconstruction.” The three founders, Richard Newcombe, Renato Salas-Moreno, and Steven Lovegrove, have all created impressive examples of computer vision in action, including KinectFusion, DynamicFusion, DTAM, SLAM++, and Dense Planar SLAM.
Armed with a Microsoft Kinect, these tools can interpret and identify the real world and reproduce it in a virtual one. KinectFusion, for example, can digitally map the layout of a room:
SLAM++ (short for “Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping at the Level of Objects”) can identify specific objects in a room based on digital reference models. So if the Kinect captures a room with two chairs and a table, it can figure out what those objects are and make a virtual copy using digital objects:
Developers could use these tools to make virtual replicas of actual places, opening the door for virtual tours or faster game development.
So far, various prototypes of the Rift VR headset have been the only hardware we’ve seen out of Oculus. But the company likely hasn’t ignored augmented reality, particularly since its appeal got a boost recently, thanks to news that Google will reboot Glass development and Microsoft has entered the niche with its intriguing HoloLens project. Oculus, for its part, may also have an augmented reality device up its sleeve, one that blends digital creations with real world objects and environments. If so, the Surreal Vision deal would also represent a major leap forward in AR development.
From there, it’s not hard to think of what Oculus could accomplish with Surreal Vision’s computer vision prowess. Imagine taking a virtual stroll with your vacationing friends in real time, or playing virtual laser tag across the country, with digital recreations of your living rooms.
A Vision Of The Future
The computer vision field’s power and potential has been growing at an exponential rate lately. Two Google projects in particular have shown off just how far computer vision has come in a short time, with an impressive showing in the form of its 3D mapping Project Tango initiative, and the ever-evolving self-driving car project, which would have to map out real-world roads (and obstacles) and digitally interpret them.
Magic Leap may be a little guy, but the much-hyped startup has laid out its vision for an upcoming initiative, courtesy of a video that relies heavily on the kind of 3D mapping tools Surreal could bring to bear at Oculus.
With this acquisition, Oculus may have taken a solid step forward to extend its road map into new areas that blend the physical world with its digital VR version. With a press event coming in June and its second developers conference scheduled for September, Oculus likely won’t be waiting long to usher us into the age of virtual surreality.
Photo by Owen Thomas for ReadWrite