I'm standing in a crowded press room at CES 2015, nearly identical in size and noise level to a dozen others I've been in this week, only I've been told this room has a separate room inside it that only I can see. A VR developer hands me a pair of smart glasses so I can see this other world, and as I put the hardware on I can. This second world isn't full of people, but instead has a series of waypoints on the floor that activate when I approach. There's no gamepad or controller to help me get to these waypoints. I'm going to have to walk there myself, which is fine. When I take a step forward in the real world, I also take a step forward in this second world.
Virtual reality and augmented reality constructs are fun, but it's complicated to create an experience where you can seamlessly enter the digital world without either a controller or padding to help as your body accidentally glances off of a wall. VR developer Sean McCracken is here in Las Vegas showing off an app that creates an effect similar to demonstrations shown with Google's Project Tango with what is arguably more logical hardware. Instead of walking around holding a tablet, Maelstrom is all about using smart glasses to enter the digital world. Armed with an Epson Moverio BT-200, Sean walked me through his virtual world in the middle of a crowded press room. As promised, every step I took in the real world was a step in Maelstrom, which currently is an open room with markers on the floor. If you walk to one of the markers, they light up and activate a panel on the wall with one activity or another. In some cases the marker would activate a link to a website, which the Moverio is more than capable of directing me to, and in others it would launch games and helpful information. According to Sean, the sky is the limit. He can quickly add parameters to modify his creation to any room size, and is currently working on a convenient way for users to map out their physical spaces in order to make the experience more universal.
While clearly still in development, Maelstrom represents a unique step forward in virtual reality. The promise of virtual reality gaming where you walk around your house protecting it from an invasion or even just creating a virtual arcade room for all of your classic games feels well within reach through this demo. Granted you still need something like the Epson Moverio headset in order to get that fluid motion tracking experience, but as first attempts go Maelstrom is a ton of fun.
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