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Oculus' Michael Abrash: The future of VR is 'virtual humans'

Oculus' Michael Abrash: The future of VR is 'virtual humans'

July 25, 2017 | By Alex Wawro

"Virtual humans—representing real humans in virtual space. As I said, I believe this will be the single biggest reason for the widespread adoption of VR."

- A blog post from Oculus VR Chief Scientist Michael Abrash

The transcript of a talk Oculus VR Chief Scientist Michael Abrash recently gave at the Global Grand Challenges Summit was published this week on the Oculus blog, and it makes for some intriguing reading if you're at all interested in virtual reality.

While very little of Abrash's talk is focused on the current state of VR game development, it does offer devs an informed look at where the industry might go in the near future and what it will take to get there. Abrash is in a position to know; prior to taking the Chief Scientist job at Oculus a few years ago, he spent a great deal of time (at companies like Valve) researching VR and AR technologies.

His chief message seems to be that the future of VR is closely tied to the pursuit of "virtual humans" -- lifelike reconstructions of people (down to eye movement and skeletal tracking) as well as the places they inhabit and the tools they use.

It's an obvious argument ("more people will buy into VR when VR is approachable, easy to use, and believable") that he then backs up with lots of specific, interesting data and examples. Here, for example (!), is how he presents the challenge of improving eye-tracking in VR headset:

"The real problem is that the current state of the art in eye tracking tries to infer where photons are landing on the retina based on the pupil position and glints off the cornea," Abrash writes, after asking the reader to watch a short video explaining how the human eye actually isn't a rigid organ. "The right solution is to track features directly on the retina, and the really right solution is to look at the image that lands on the retina—but doing that across the full range of eye motion in a head-mounted display will require the development of an entirely new type of eye tracking technology."

VR-curious devs can read the rest of Abrash's presentation on the future of VR, replete with a bunch of visual aids and explanations of why "our perception of reality is actually just a best guess", over on the Oculus blog.

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