Enlarge / A user traverses a park while wearing a DreamWalker kit.Microsoft

Researchers at Microsoft have developed new VR technologies that they claim allow users to remain fully immersed in a virtual world even while traversing public places in the real world on foot.

Microsoft describes the project, titled DreamWalker, as "a method for allowing people to safely navigate a given route in real-world environments, such as a daily walk to work, while seeing themselves strolling a different VR world, such as a city of their choosing." It was developed by researchers Jackie Yang, Eyal Ofek, Andy Wilson, and Christian Holz.

The company's research division published a blog post about the new research yesterday, and researchers will present the method at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology tomorrow.

The real-world path and corresponding virtual environment are planned in advance based on geolocation data, then updated on the fly as required in an uncontrolled outdoor environment. Any potential obstacles the user encounters while traversing real space are recorded by real-time sensing technologies in the VR apparatus, including a dual-band GPS sensor, two RGB depth cameras, and "a Windows Mixed Reality-provided relative position trace." Those obstacles may be replaced by obstacles in the virtual world, such as road blocks. Additionally, a video-game-quest-marker-like arrow will direct the user in what is deemed to be a safe and efficient traversal direction.

"Discovered obstacles that may move or appear in users' paths are managed by introducing moving virtual obstacles, or characters, such as pedestrians walking near users, to block them from any potential danger," the blog post explains. "Other options for controlling users' paths may include pets and dynamic events such as vehicles being parked, moving carts, and more, limited only by the imagination of the experience creator."

  • The user has to wear this apparatus right now, which isn't exactly convenient, of course. Microsoft
  • From right to left: the real world, the virtual world, and a path planning visualization. Microsoft
  • DreamWalker tracks three types of obstacles. Microsoft
  • The environment-sensing and processing pipeline for DreamWalker. Microsoft
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