"Fire up the Oculus and Atlas iPhone app, and step into the future." - TechCrunch
"The Atlas looks like the most insane home video-gaming experience ever" - Yahoo! News
"The Atlas: Making the Oculus Rift even more awesome!" - Nerd Reactor
What is it?
Atlas lets you turn any space in the real world into the most immersive virtual reality experience yet. For years, expensive real space VR systems have existed in academic environments and in one-off systems, but now, Atlas brings this technology to developers everywhere.
Atlas is a positioning system that consists of an app for the iPhone and markers placed on the ground. When worn by the player, it translates your real world movement into virtual reality.
We have all wanted a holodeck since we were kids, and now we're finally approaching that level of immersion. With products like the Oculus Rift and the Razer Hydra, we are able to look around and interact inside the virtual world, and now Atlas enables us to physically be there.
Why is it so immersive?
Atlas creates a whole new level of immersion in VR, because your physical motion is translated into the virtual world. You are not pushing a joystick or running in place, you are actually walking around. Your brain can draw cues from the kinematics of your body, and make assumptions about your position by dead reckoning that help you believe the virtual world is real. The difference between just looking around in VR, and walking right up to an enemy and looking them in the eye is immense.
How does It work?
Atlas is a patent-pending system that uses optical tracking fused with accelerometers and gyros to locate you in a room. You put down special markers around a room wherever you want, map the room so Atlas knows where they are, and then strap your iPhone to your chest and it positions you within the room. It is meant to be used with a head mounted display like the Oculus Rift and a gaming laptop.
Specs in short
Update rate: ~26hz Tracking: Optical + gyro + accelerometer Mobile platform: iPhone4s and better Connection: Wifi Data output: Position + Orientation System platform: PC, Mac, Linux Engine Support: Unity
What is it for?
Atlas gives you a virtual world to play in, whether you want to play first-person-shooter-style games that will give you a killer workout in a half hour, or design epic fantasy adventures share with friends, or create educational modules to teach history, or...Jurassic Park. Someone should do Jurassic Park.
Atlas is a system that gives you access to another world. What you do with that other world is up to you.
Who is it for?
Atlas is currently for developers who have wanted to set foot in a virtual world. In the future, we want to make a consumer-ready version, but this is year zero of virtual reality, and we need developers to try out the tech, give us feedback, and help us improve. If you're excited about real space virtual reality, there are rewards on the right that let you contribute without getting the developer tools.
What about latency?
Latency was a huge concern, and misinformed our research direction for a long time as we chased ultra-low latency positioning. After a conversation with neuroscientist David Eagleman about the way the brain perceives simultaneity, Aaron found that the latency times he was trying for were unnecessarily low. The trick that made the difference was to rely on the Oculus Rift's high-frequency orientation trackers to track your head rotation, while Atlas provided lower-frequency positioning updates. It turns out your brain is much more sensitive to lag in orientation than position.
How do I integrate it with my game?
We will include a Unity asset that makes the process easy. Right now, the app connects to the gaming laptop via WiFi, and the gaming laptop connects to the Oculus. We are currently using an ad-hoc connection, because it's more portable to not bring a router, and we've found our home routers will sometimes induce additional periodic latency due to quality of service filtering (QoS). Technically, we are just streaming out UDP packets giving Atlas's location and orientation (orientation is in case you want to use it for your own purposes) at an average of around 26 frames per second. We use the location data to move around the character controller, while the Oculus still controls the head/stereo camera orientation.
You can use Atlas with any game engine where you can set up your own UDP client. We'll provide the data format. However, our last bit of physical modeling and motion prediction is done on the Unity side at the moment, so you will be getting closer to raw data from Atlas. We do have plans in the future for Unreal compatibility and moving the full motion prediction and modeling over to the iPhone.
Why do we need funding?
We need to manufacture chest mounts and markers, improve our technology and tracking, create high-quality assets for Unity integration, as well write documentation and provide support to you, the developers. So back us on the right, and help to make the virtual world real.
About Protagonist LLC
Protagonist LLC is the company behind Atlas. It was founded by Aaron Rasmussen, who created the world's first optical tracking sentry gun, which brought the military's experimental weapons research department to his dorm room at Boston University. He has a background in computer science, specializing in computer vision. The rest of the team is composed of computer scientists and engineers passionate about VR.
To Oculus for use of the Tuscany Demo level, and making a great piece of hardware.
The sounds Shell Falling by Marcel and Squish 1 by Mike Koenig were used in this video under CC Attribution 3.0.
Risks and challenges
Finding position in real space without using 18 camera networks, active markers, or other expensive means is a very hard problem. We have it working, but we want it to be better. Fortunately, we have the team and track record to make Atlas happen. We have communicated with Apple about how best to release the app, and they have suggested using gift codes once it's on the store. This is the current plan for distribution.
Delays in manufacturing could happen, but by breaking the process down into quantifiable steps, and getting commitments for time frames on each, we can either correct or communicate any delays as soon as possible.
There are a few primary manufacturers we have selected for the project. The first and most critical is the chest mount manufacturer. It is a US-based company that manufactures in China. We have received a prototype (the white chest mount in the video) and full production samples from them (the black chest mount in the video), and they are producing a low cost option for this project. They are just waiting on the order at this point and after we submit the purchase order will give us a timeline for production and then shipping. So far, customs has not been a problem, but it's a variable that is hard to predict, and has delayed shipments in the past up to 2 weeks.
The markers will be through a printer here in Southern California that we have used before for a variety of large printing jobs. Stickers, 3d glasses, and t-shirts come from typical US promotional sources that produce mass quantities. Fulfillment is planned from here in Los Angeles.
To do accurate optical tracking, you need to know the calibration profile of a particular camera. There are a ridiculous number of Android phones: http://techcrunch.com/2012/05/15/3997-models-android-fragmentation-as-seen-by-the-developers-of-opensignalmaps/ and many have different camera lens/sensor combinations, whereas there are only a few models of iPhone. As an initial platform, iPhone is reasonable to support, but Android is not if we want the tracking quality to be high. Optical tracking does work with a generic calibration profile, but accuracy is much more important when using it for immersive VR.
Atlas knows your 3d position. We recommend that at the beginning of the game, players set where the physical walls are. That way the game designers can alert the player if he or she gets too close to the wall. Real walls should also be represented as in-game objects so the player always has a sense of their limits. It works the same way out-of-bounds lines work on the basketball court. If you cross one and keep running, you're going to have a bad day.
LITE VERSION PLUS: Atlas app for iPhone + Unity integration assets + 20 markers + marker templates to print your own. Enough markers to cover a 20'x20' room. This is what you need to try out Atlas, but provides a sub-optimal experience.
RECOMMENDED: Atlas app for iPhone + chest mount + Unity integration assets + 20 markers + marker templates to print your own. Everything you need to walk around inside Virtual Reality, and you don't even have to use your printer.
AHEAD OF THE GAME: Everything from the $130 level, but you get an early release of the software via testflight. We're not going to specify what "early" is. It might be a month, it might be two weeks, at the least it will be when we submit to Apple for approval. But either way, you get your hands on it before anyone else does.