Many of us remember when the Oculus Rift was a pair of ski goggles with duct tape and dangling wires being shown off on forums. It was a very DIY style project, one which was freely and openly replicated in the early days. With the massive improvements, often thanks to equally massive injections of funding, it is easy to forget about the DIY aspect of Virtual Reality.
Make no mistake, the DIY in VR is still alive and well.
First, let me frame a bit of why I’m telling you about this. I’m Caleb Kraft, Senior Editor for Make Magazine and Maker Faire DIY is my life. I’ve also been obsessed with VR since the days of Dactyl Nightmare. This combination was especially fun when we decided our next issue of Make Magazine will be focusing on VR. Aside from getting to do some really rare things like peeking into the labs at Valve where the HTC Vive was born, I also got to track down many interesting DIY projects in the VR space right now.
There’s a surprising amount of things still happening that don’t involve rounds of investment and multi billion dollar deals. The big companies have done a great job of tackling immersion for our eyes and ears, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a million different angles to approach immersion for the rest of your body. Each game and experience is unique, so there’s no end to projects in this area, from simple to incredibly complex.
1. PVC gun rigs
VR hacks and mods don’t have to be complex or expensive. This idea, using PVC to make you feel more like you’re holding what you see in the game, is very easy to reproduce and can really add to the immersion. Simon, who goes by Falondorn online, shared all the details you would need to recreate this setup in a reddit thread, even revisiting the idea with improvements to share with the community. He has made 10 so far and sold all of them, though he plans on making more.
2. VR Pinball
Jeremy Williams from TESTED is a huge pinball fan. Of course, one of the most impactful aspects of pinball is being able to feel the machine in your hands. VR Pinball with an Xbox controller is just simply lacking. Williams shows that a fairly simple rig can bump that experience up considerably.
This concept is arguably more on the AR side of things, but is still a perfect example of very inventive DIY methods. The Perceptoscope is mounted in a single location and works just like a typical set of binoculars you’d see at a landmark. However, what you see through the lenses might be a virtual overlay, which is freaking cool. Fixed rotation takes much of the complexity out of tracking, so it should be quite impressive when it is done.
4. Haptic Gloves
Tired of waiting for the haptic gloves that are all under development, Ben Hesson began work on his own. He’s using a C.H.I.P. $9 computer for the brains that control a bunch of tiny vibrating motors in the finger tips. It is rudimentary, but a fantastic step and easily approachable DIY project.
5. project MASK
I witnessed this one at World Maker Faire New York. After seeing all of the attempts at haptics and consumer DIY devices, it was refreshing to see a completely different angle on making VR stuff at home. The idea here is that each different “mask” you place on your head feeds you different experiences. Yes, they were more analogous to Google Cardboard and therefore completely lacking in positional tracking, but I found the concept quite interesting.
These 5 examples show a bit of diversity in what people are building right now, but they don’t even come close to comprehensively showing what is happening out in the world. There are constant new crowdfunding projects and startups appearing, working on advanced gloved haptics, motion tracking systems, even whole body exo-suits.
These are the early days. Headsets are still trickling into people’s hands. The DIY community is going to be doing some incredibly cool stuff over the next couple years and I’m really excited to see what they come up with.