NIST improves virtual reality performance

Scientists working with 3-D virtual reality environments can expect a major improvement in accuracy thanks to new measurement methods developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Researchers at NIST say their new method should improve the accuracy of three-dimensional tracking devices by at least 700 percent.

The problem with existing systems is that the sensors used to measure movements through 3-D environments are sensitive to variations in electromagnetic fields caused by materials such as ferrous metals in walls and floors. The resulting errors can be significant, NIST said.

“We're looking at errors that are on average about one foot,” NIST mathemetician John Hagedorn told GCN. However, Hagedorn also said the errors can be as much as three feet. “The space in which we’re working is about eight feet on a side, so an error of a foot is a lot.”

The errors in measurements grew with the distance between the user’s “wand,” or moving sensor, and the transmitter that projects the virtual environment.

The NIST team decided to try to correct the data errors by mapping two sets of data points – locations where they knew the sensors were and locations where the computer said they were. Using this data they developed software to make corrections in the errors.

“After correction, [the] error [size] has gone down to 1.7 centimeters,” Hagedorn said. “That's a big difference.”

The first test with the new software was measuring a lattice structure with elements about two millimeters to three millimeters in size designed to grow artificial skin replacements or bone. A 3-D image of the structure was constructed using data obtained from a high-resolution microscope.

Hagedorn said the team’s goal is to turn virtual reality from a tool for qualitative understanding into a tool for quantitative understand that researchers can use for actually measuring the materials and environments they are projecting. Accurate projects, said Hagedorn, “enable the researcher to interact more effectively with the virtual object.”

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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