VR expert Sebastien Kuntz: “VR can change the world with the right apps”

[From 3D Focus, where the story includes several additional images and a video]

Immersive Cocoon

[Image: Immersive Cocoon]

“VR can change the world with the right apps” says VR expert

May 20, 2013

Sébastien ‘VR Geek’ Kuntz is one of the world’s foremost experts on virtual reality.  A board member of the French national VR association AFRV, Kuntz worked at Virtools / Dassault Systèmes as the lead virtual reality engineer for four years.

He founded ‘i’m in VR’ to achieve his goal of providing the most immersive VR experiences to everyone. One of the company’s software tools – MiddleVR, won a Laval Virtual Award in 2012.

MiddleVR and MiddleVR For Unity are immersive virtual reality plugins designed to work with different 3D applications.  You can design something based on Unity and the software will configure the environments so they can be integrated into many different type of displays such as HMDs and CAVE environments.

In this exclusive interview, Kuntz reveals his thoughts on the state of VR and talks about how the MiddleVR software can speed up the creation of virtual reality applications.

3D Focus: What elements are essential for creating a sense of immersion?

Sébastien Kuntz:  The feeling of presence can be split in two: cognitive (mind) and perceptive (senses).  You first have to fool the senses with at least low latency, wide field of view, high resolution, positional head tracking and hand tracking. Then the mind has to be correctly fooled with a coherent virtual world, not necessarily a realistic one. Videogames and books already work on this level.

VR is the only medium that can fool your senses, and that’s its strength.

3D Focus: You have been working in virtual reality for many years – do you think it is finally here to stay?

Sébastien Kuntz:  VR is already here to stay in the professional market and has been used for a long time now to prototype cars, planes, shops and kitchens.

Phobias such as fear of heights and spiders can be treated efficiently in VR. Training for many different purposes (surgery, maintenance, security, military…) is already a reality. Architects are living in their buildings before they exist.

I know that once people get a feel for VR, they will find many other uses. The real question is if VR will finally reach a wider audience! I certainly hope so. As Palmer Luckey often says, all the conditions are met. Now we have to focus on making great applications for VR.  I strongly believe VR can change the world with the right applications.

3D Focus: Do you expect the interest in VR generated by the Oculus Rift will have a positive impact on your company?

Sébastien Kuntz:  What VR currently lacks is exposure; unless people actually try a VR system, they will have a hard time understanding its power.

The Oculus Rift will bring more awareness to VR, and this can only be good for the VR field as a whole.

3D Focus: What are your personal thoughts on the Oculus Rift?

Sébastien Kuntz:  I have been able to test it before Kickstarter, presented in a shoebox with duct tape all around but I was immediately impressed by it, even compared to professional HMDs.

There is still room for improvement, but I know the Oculus team and they are on the right path.

3D Focus: What is MiddleVR and how does it speed up application development in comparison to using the stand-alone Unity software?

Sébastien Kuntz:  Each manufacturer provides its own SDK, which is more or less user friendly (and often not friendly at all).

Our goal is to make everything as simple to use as possible and increase the portability of your application. Even salespeople were able to prepare and run a demo!

If one day you want to switch from one set of devices to another one, you won’t have to rewrite your whole application: simply change the configuration file!

3D Focus: How does MiddleVR reduce the time to move from one VR app to another?

ébastien Kuntz:  First, once your application is built using MiddleVR, it doesn’t have to be modified to run on another VR system.  You just specify another configuration file, and your application will be reconfigured to match the new VR system that you are targeting.

To achieve this we provide layers of abstraction so that your application is independent of the hardware. We also provide high level interactions that will work with common VR systems.

3D Focus: How does MiddleVR simplify development for the Oculus Rift?

Sébastien Kuntz:  Oculus Rift support is currently in private beta only, along with our free version.  But with one drag and drop you can add support for the Oculus Rift and many other HMDs, existing or upcoming.  Even once your application is exported, you can easily configure the user’s height for example.

You can also quickly add and mix any kind of 3D tracker, like the Razer Hydra, Kinect or Leap Motion.

The fundamental point for me is that the Oculus Rift is not (yet) a minimum VR platform.  It is missing head positional tracking and at least a hand tracker.  That’s why I think it is important to be able to simply add other 3D trackers to prototype different platforms.

We’re also working on adding more high-level interactions so that you can easily use those building blocks to create any kind of VR application.

3D Focus: Is MiddleVR compatible with zSpace?

Sébastien Kuntz:  Very easily, the zSpace works like any other VR system: just select the configuration from the list and your application is automatically reconfigured.

The nice thing is that you can complement the zSpace stylus with any other 3D tracker, for example to use another Razer Hydra for left-hand tracking, or the Leap Motion for multitouch interactions!

3D Focus: MiddleVR is compatible with a holostage and holowall – what are those?

Sébastien Kuntz:  A holowall is simply a big stereoscopic screen or projected surface including 3D trackers so that the system knows where the user stands in front of the screen.  You then feel that this screen is actually a window to another world.
A holostage takes to concept a bit further by adding a screen on the floor: you are more immersed and feel you are a part of the simulation.

3D Focus: Would this work with the Animazoo IGS Glove for hand and finger tracking?

Sébastien Kuntz:  Not yet, but we could easily add support for that.

3D Focus: For someone who has no idea about Unity, how long would this take to learn?

Sébastien Kuntz:  Unity can be learned very quickly, MiddleVR even more quickly. I think in less than a day you can start having a nice immersive experience.

Crafting a perfect VR experience takes more time though: the feeling of presence in this other world is fragile and you should always design your application so that presence is maximised.

3D Focus: Could Middle VR somehow convert other content easily to be suitable  for a HMD (such as Google Streetview?)

Sébastien Kuntz:  MiddleVR is a generic VR middleware. Its goal is to simplify the adaptation of existing applications to VR so it could enable Streetview. We’re already working on adapting Sketchup, which feels very nice on the zSpace!

Sebastien Kuntz blog


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