If the metaverse wants to fool our eyes, it must first pass an exam

If the metaverse wants to fool our eyes, it must first pass an exam

If the metaverse wants to fool our eyes

Among the various skepticisms raised by the perspective of the metaverse (the digital and immersive world into which we should transfer a growing part of our daily lives), there is one in particular that is often mentioned. Why should we spend long periods in a virtual reality environment (as happens above all in Meta's vision) that requires us to completely isolate ourselves from the physical world, wearing uncomfortable helmets that can cause a feeling of nausea and with still limited graphic potential?

The positive aspect is that all these limits and questions are clearly present to the Meta engineers themselves (starting with the founder Mark Zuckerberg), who are in fact working to ensure that the metaverse, in the future, truly becomes an attractive and digital place. comfortable . During the last Inside the Lab (a periodic appointment with which Meta presents its latest experimental research to the press), the founder of Facebook has in fact tackled this issue, explaining how the ultimate frontier is to overcome the "visual Turing test" . To be able to create a digital world that in our eyes is indistinguishable from the physical one.

The “Holy Grail” of the metaverse Let's clear the field of misunderstandings immediately: the road to achieving a visual quality of this type is still very long. In many ways, it is a sort of "Holy Grail" of the metaverse, the final goal to aspire to and which allows, along the way, to conquer a series of intermediate stages that will make the worlds in virtual reality and augmented reality ever more plausible. And it is precisely starting from augmented reality that Mark Zuckerberg summarized his goal. "Screens capable of fully reproducing the breadth of human vision will allow us to achieve results of fundamental importance - explained the founder of Meta during Inside the Lab -. The main one is to get a photorealistic sense of presence, that is the feeling of being with someone or in a place as if we were really there ”.

"The other day I was testing photorealistic avatars in mixed reality (which therefore combine elements of virtual reality and augmented reality, ed.) - continued Zuckerberg -. An experience in which you see the surroundings that surround you, but in which a person's avatar is also present with me. If you took off the viewer, everything would remain exactly the same, except for the fact that with you there is another person with whom you can interact, who you see moving and who gives the feeling of really being there with you. Imagine whether it is a member of your family who lives far away or someone you collaborate with on a project. And imagine what it would be like to be physically together in the same environment. "

At the same time, one could imagine the idea of ​​organizing a virtual reality excursion to Everest, but during which - instead of clearly facing a digital duplicate with an unsatisfactory resolution and with which one can interact in a limited way - it would be almost impossible to realize that you are not physically in that place. Beyond the disturbing aspects that a perspective of this type can raise, it is clear what the potential is in the event that one is unable to reach a particular person or place.

Zuckerberg himself, however, to admit that this perspective is still distant: “Current VR systems are already able to offer the feeling of being elsewhere and it is difficult to explain how profound this feeling is. However, there is still a long way to go to reach visual realism ".

The Starburst (Credits: Meta)

The obstacles to overcome Among the many challenges to overcome - for which Meta has designed a whole series of prototypes of viewers shown during Inside the Lab - some have been synthesized by Zuckerberg: “You need a stereoscopic screen that creates 3D images. It is necessary to be able to render objects and focus the gaze on various distances: an activity different from that required by traditional displays or screens, with which it is sufficient to focus on a single distance, the one at which the phone is located or the monitor. You need a screen that covers a much wider angle of view than traditional displays. Finally, to ensure a resolution at the level of the retina in the entire visual field, a much higher number of pixels is needed ”. And these are just some of the obstacles. To which is added the need for a comfortable viewer, better CPU and GPU performance, batteries that do not run out quickly and devices that do not overheat.

In all this, the visual elements represent "only the last link in the chain". Let's take just the case of resolution: “The challenge we have set ourselves is to find out what it takes to make a viewer with retinal resolution - explained Zuckerberg -. This means getting to about 60 pixels per degree on the screen - a much higher value than the current one. Our Display Systems Research team had to put all their creativity to work to achieve current results ”.

The Half Dome (Credits: Meta)

The founder of Meta, who during the meeting was accompanied by the heads of various specialist areas of the Meta laboratories, showed a prototype of VR viewer called Butterscotch, equipped with a resolution sufficient to guarantee a vision in VR equal to ten tenths of the tables normally used for eye examinations: “These prototypes are customized and made-to-measure models, made in our laboratories. They are not ready-to-market products. However, when I try them, the experience is extraordinary and the images are incredibly sharp. ”

Among the various prototypes shown, each of which specializes in solving a specific problem and which have names like Half Dome Zero , Butterscotch or Starburst, are two models that have attracted attention. The first is Holocake 2: a virtual reality system with performances not too far from those of the current Oculus Quest, but which - using the hologram of a lens instead of a real lens - allows for much smaller dimensions.

Credits: Meta

The second is instead the project (still only at a conceptual level) called Mirror Lake, which has the shape of a pair of ski goggles and integrates almost all the most advanced technologies visuals studied in the Meta laboratories over the last seven years. In short, it is the final goal, the one that, one day, will perhaps allow us to pass the "visual Turing test". It is not clear how long it will take before we get here, and during the meeting no Meta engineer was unbalanced. However, Zuckerberg himself has always talked about a 5-10 year prospect. By then, if the technologies progress as planned, perhaps they can really persuade us to "enter the metaverse".

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