Remember the 1999 sci-fi movie “The Matrix?” It was the first cinematic ode to the possibilities of virtual worlds, though it took some of the film’s characters some time to catch on.
But that film won’t be the last virtual world — not by a long shot now that virtual reality technology is allowing creatives, developers, and software and hardware designers to muscle into the space.
The latest iteration comes from the University of Michigan.
“Now scientists are getting much closer to replicating reality with an increasingly indistinguishable computer-generated copy,” reports Popular Science. “Just take a look at the latest advances from the University of Michigan’s UM3D Lab, which focuses on research into virtual reality, 3D modeling/printing, motion capture, and other emerging technologies.”
Turns out that the university has hosted an immersive virtual reality testing environment since 1997. A smallish (10-foot by 10-foot) room covered with projection walls, it is the backdrop for changing scenarios as people move within it.
“But only recently did researchers upgrade this room, called MIDEN (Michigan Immersive Digital Experience Nexus), with the Unreal graphics engine, previously used to produce some of the most detailed and beautiful videogames of all time, from Bioshock Infinite to the Mass Effect series,” according to Popular Science.
MIDEN’s upgrade to the Unreal engine allow the VR testing room to be able to replicate “incredibly lifelike environments, complete with difficult features like plants, water, smoke, and flame.”
In addition, due to MIDEN’s tracking system — which relies on stereoscopic glasses and a gaming controller, both outfitted with tracking balls — these virtual environments can be made to span out infinitely in all directions, and human testers can not only move freely throughout them, they can manipulate objects (doors, weapons).
The results are indeed pretty amazing, as the UM3D video shared below illustrates.