While the Rift and Vive VR headsets are similar in many ways, they differ in one critical aspect. The headsets use dramatically different tracking systems. The Oculus Rift needs a camera connected to the PC to track your movement while the Vive uses laser base stations at either end of the room. The laser boxes don’t need to be connected to the PC, making it easy for HP and Alienware to think up completely wireless backpack PCs that work with the Vive to let you walk freely around large spaces in VR.
The Rift, though, needs some other kind of tracking system to be really feasible in that kind of a situation. One enterprising hacker put together the craziest VR rig I’ve seen yet. He turned to KNEX, the children’s toy that’s kind of like a plastic Erector Set. He used them to encase a ball that rolls along the ground. Then he used a wireless mouse set against the ball to track its movement. In the process he essentially turned himself into a giant mouse cursor walking around a parking lot while immersed in the classic games Doom and Quake. The rig started off as a kind of cart you push around in front of you.
He eventually developed a waistline docking mechanism to drag the unit behind him as he walked. I emailed a few questions to Axel Wolstenholme, who posted the video, to learn more about the project. Here’s what he wrote:
It’s a wireless mouse that is held against the ball and when the ball rolls it’s like moving the mouse on a surface, all I had to do was put the mouse back to front and it translated fine in the games. I am from Manchester, UK and I built this because I have had ideas for different ways of large scale motion tracking for VR for over 5 years. When I finally got my Oculus Rift I started trying different ways of implementing my ideas but due to lack of funds and technical expertise I was unable to get a solution working until recently. Over a year ago I made this video which highlights what I wanted to achieve in VR, In this video however I am controlling the direction of my brother’s walking based on watching his movements. So I started building the current set up a couple of weeks ago, I started with a gym ball as the tracker but it proved too big and soft. When I got the giant tennis ball it took me about a week to create the first version of the tracker, the handheld one you can see in episode 1 of my VR series. It then took me another week to change the design to work hands free.I aim to keep developing my ideas into something smaller and portable, I would like to include the motion tracking DK2 camera too when I figure out how to disable it’s ability to reset orientation. I am not a software engineer, I just used what was available to me in the doom/quake/oculus software in the hopes that it will inspire other people to create hardware/software that expands on my ideas.
His YouTube description for the rig says it’s slightly cumbersome,” which is a bit of an understatement. As far as the benefits, it cost him almost nothing to build and it’ll work on any surface that a soccer ball can roll on.
This isn’t the wireless Rift we’ve been waiting for, but it’s nonetheless pretty cool.