Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts…. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.
I’ve been waiting a long time for the Internet to turn into Gibson’s three-dimensional chrome and neon landscape, with information I can manipulate by touch, where your position matters but your body doesn’t. I should have known that gamers, not CS geeks or scifi book nerds, would get there first.
The Oculus Rift is a head-mounted virtual reality display birthed by a Kickstarter of immense proportions. Almost 10,000 backers donated $2.4 million for the Oculus VR team to refine and produce their hardware, which is currently shipping to game developers or players who are willing to live with a few glitches.
The head-mounted display weighs just under a pound. It includes a seven-inch screen, which lets you see more than 90 degrees horizontally. Once you’ve strapped the display around your head, you peer through the binocular-like interface, and you’re in three-dimensional virtual reality.
The Oculus Rift uses the same mechanism as your eyes to generate the feeling of depth perception that translates to realistic three-dimensionality. When you focus on an object the muscles around your eyes contract and relax, signaling to your brain their positions once both eyes have converged on the object. The brain translates these positions into angles. With two angles, a baseline, and the distance between your eyes, usually between 50 and 70 centimetres in adults, your brain triangulates the distance to the object. The Oculus Rift does essentially the same process: Because the fields of view (one per eye) within the display don’t entirely overlap, Rift’s software can calculate the angles between your eyes and the same object in each field of view and, using the interpupillary distance you supply as the baseline, triangulate.
This allows you to step confidently into the worlds of Team Fortress 2, Hawken, and soon, Doom 4 and Star Citizen, without worrying about stubbing your toes. Hopefully you’ll be as surprised and gratified at the results as this grandma, someone Gibson would probably never have pegged as a cyber cowboy but whose life is still changed by the neon and chrome of virtual reality.