Shaking The Cave: Virtual Reality Researchers Present VR Demos Live From The Octave at Salford University

Posted on January 11, 2016


John O’Hare is a senior researcher and technical director of the Octave System – a VR immersive cave environment – at the University of Salford. He’s got some rather impressive videos of the system at work.

John O'Hare (bottom right) with the Paradigm AV team, who upgraded the Octave.

John O’Hare (bottom right) with the Paradigm AV team, who upgraded the Octave.

In the autumn of 2015 John took his camera into the University of Salford to record projects underway in the immersive Octave VR system. Octave is an eight-sided video system that creates holographic rendering in vision, sound and touch for VR research, testing and telepresence.

“The overall effect is a compellingly real sensation of experiencing all the sights and sounds of another place, whether it’s a marketplace in Iraq, an operating theatre, the surface of Mars or the prototype of a new car,” said John in a blog post describing the Octave. “The facility also includes a top specification robotic arm, allowing the user to experience highly sensitive touch sensations.”

Yep, it’s pretty high spec. The acoustic system includes 264 separate speakers. State of the art is about right. I spoke to John in 2010 when writing a story for the British Council on the way VR was being used at the time. His ambition for VR was to see commercial systems that would be like the holodeck from Star Trek, in your front room.

Octave 02

John works jointly at the university and the BBC’s MediaCity in the Egg multimedia suite. He explains: “The BBC started this research because they wanted to look at the living room of the future. When displays and computers are embedded everywhere, the idea is that you will be able to turn round and talk to your friend who is watching the same football match with you on TV, but they are in Australia.”

“The real aim of VR systems is to get a stereo image into the head of the user. For that you need left and right-eye projection. Auto-stereoscopic systems will evolve to track what both eyes are doing,” he said, doing a spot of crystal ball gazing. “We could even see laser-tracking devices in mobile phones to project images onto the back of the eye, in which case you could overlay images anywhere at any time.”

With the release of the Oculus Rift headset for home VR use on desktops, we are on the brink of mass adoption, but the vision of holographic VR is much more attractive than wearing a chunk of real estate on your head. John’s videos show PhD student Sean Mandrake Hill’s research inside the Octave – visualisation and interaction software that he built specially, along with his own experiments and scenes.

“I may as well point out at here that when in octave this is stereoscopically rendered to give 3D depth perception,” says John. “We have that feature turned off for the camera.”

To show the wave field synthesis acoustics system in action a motorway demo was built with cars sweeping past – each one has sound files attached, exhibiting the Doppler audio effect.

AND… a VR render of what looks like MediaCity, that includes LIDAR data and Ordnance Survey photography. “It was getting hard to demonstrate the features of the wavefield synthesis acoustics using the motorway demo, which we threw together in a morning,” says John. “The tram in this scene is once again a wavefield synthesis source as you should hear when I fly past at speed.”

Both of the acoustic demos where developed in Unity with MiddleVR for screen integration, tracking and controllers. The large wand in the demo is a MiddleVR icon for picking.