ZED camera offers positional tracking for mobile VR

(Image courtesy Stereolabs.)

(Image courtesy Stereolabs.)

Part of the reason the HTC Vive gets such great reviews — and costs so much — is that it does positional tracking. When you walk around wearing the headset, you walk around inside the virtual environment as well.

Mobile-based headsets, on the other hand, require you to move using a joystick or some kind of in-game mechanism that doesn’t involve actual physical walking. And when your virtual reality experience makes you think you’re moving, but you’re actually sitting still, that’s when motion sickness kicks in.

To help address the problems, Stereolabs has released a $450 depth-sensing camera, ZED, that adds positional tracking to Gear VR or Google Cardboard headsets.

Unfortunately, it isn’t capable of tracking hand gestures. The system also requires a separate computer to run it, connected using a 150-foot cable, or a separate portable computer module.

“This option is more expensive for users as they have to buy an additional module for about $500 but users can freely move without any limit in terms of distance,” a ZED spokesperson told Hypergrid Business. “It’s a first step towards the final objective — to integrate the module into the headset or phone. We believe this will be possible in one or two years.”

(Image Courtesy Stereolabs)

(Image Courtesy Stereolabs)

Currently, phones aren’t powerful enough to run the camera on top of running the virtual reality applications.

“There are some constraints in terms of use because you still need a cable but it’s a big first step towards position tracking for mobile virtual reality,” said the company representative. “The next step will be integration into headsets but as GPU power is increasing fast and power consumption is reducing fast as well, we strongly believe it will be possible to have this next year.”

The camera can also be used on drones and to record 110-degree virtual reality video. There’s also a software development kit so that other companies can build their own applications using the camera.

Watch a demo video below:

 

 

 

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David Kariuki

David Kariuki is a technology journalist who has a wide range of experience reporting about modern technology solutions. A graduate of Kenya's Moi University, he also writes for Cleanleap, and has previously worked for Resources Quarterly and Construction Review.

  • Carlos Loff

    A big part of the reason it costs so much is because people give money for it, nothing else – We are feeding speculative prices for a hype

    • It probably costs so much because they just launched it so each unit costs a lot to produce — they haven’t achieved economies of scale yet. If the product becomes popular, prices are likely to drop. Plus, if there’s a market, then competitors will come in, and that will drive prices down even further as they try to outdo each other to reduce production and distribution costs.

  • Rene

    It would be much cheaper to use a magnetic sensor and do positional tracking off of that. The big issue is dealing with drift with accelerometer drift, and a multi-axis mag sensor could do that, clearly not as tight as the Vive lighthouse approach, but also for far less than that $450 price, and also something that could run in the phone as a positioning app.

    • I’m playing Pokemon Go right now and it’s really surprising how well it knows where I am. If you combine that with the camera and the accelerometer, it should be able to tell if I’m moving closer or further apart from objects, or if I’m turning.

      • Rene

        The GPS data is used to mitigate accelerometer drift, which can build up velocity quite quickly because of the double integration: accel -> vel -> position. So, yes, it might be possible to use the GPS, although GPS has slow drift (ten-ish seconds) too about the error centroid.

        • can’t the camera be used to catch the really small movements? if you’re moving towards or away from something, object size will change, and if you’re rotating your head, it will move across your field of view. Obviously, this probably won’t work in a totally dark room — but then, you’re probably not going to be walking around in a totally dark room, anyway.

          • Rene

            Yes, you can, but why pay $400 (or $150 for a RealSense RGBD cam) when a 9-axis mag/gyro/accel chip does the job for $11 retail. And, you do not need huge amounts of compute power meaning it all can be done in the phone. The idea here is to keep these systems inexpensive yet reasonably tracking accurate. Their bigger cousins like Oculus, Vive, Morpheus, etc. will be more accurate, have higher resolution but also are costly.

          • I was thinking of the phone’s built-in camera.

          • Rene

            Not enough compute power in the phone to do the analysis required to determine that kind of movement in anything approaching real-time. That’s why this Zed thing requires an external computer. Making things work in resource constrained environments is quite challenging.