What if you could place your actual body into computer software? That’s a question Facebook’s virtual reality headset company Oculus is asking itself right now, as they imagine a future in which 1 billion users could wear video headsets and speak to one another “face-to-face.”
It’s a grand idea. So, um, how would you digitize your person? And what would that look like?
This demo by Oliver Kreylos–a University of California, Davis, researcher unrelated to Facebook–gives us a pretty good hint of how it could work today. He has created a working system that surrounds a person with three Kinect cameras–cameras that can see in 3-D, essentially–to digitize their body. Then he feeds this body signal into an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.
Say that person is you. And when you look down, you’d see your anatomy moving just as it normally does, except that your body would no longer be tangible flesh covered in cotton clothing. It would be digitized into pixels and polygons.
“Even though it’s fuzzy . . . because it creates all of the folds in my shirt and pants and all that, it just looks a lot more real in some respects than a very well-done motion capture avatar,” Kreylos says in the above video. Say you wear this digital skin that moves 1:1 with your real skin. Perhaps the crummy graphics won’t bother you so much. Because it just feels right.
Then the fun starts. You could then place this virtual body into any setting you imagine and create any number of immersive virtual experiences, from cities to woodsy landscapes–or crazy virtual worlds that defy physics as we know it. The technical requirements of such a project (at the Facebook scale) would be enormous, of course, but Kreylos has proven that just a few hundred dollars in consumer-grade hardware could make at least part of that experience possible right now.