Having had an initial read of the Intel RealSense Spatial Awareness Wearable (SAW) website released on the Intel Developer Zone newsletter, I thought I would provide some thoughts on it. First though, here's a link to that site if you haven't seen it.
Some background information: in my RealSense project, I built a full-body avatar that has had to address the problem of not being able to track a walking person with a static F200 camera by using an auto-walking animation triggered by lifting the head up instead of true leg tracking. The technicalities of real-time leg tracking (which is possible with the F200, though impractical) are not entirely relevant to a discussion about the R200-based SAW, as the R200 lacks the hand joint tracking that makes leg detection feasible with the F200. I simply provide this information to illustrate that I very much understand the issues and challenges involved in tracking a moving person with RealSense.
Throughout my project, a feature high on my dream wish-list - if true walking had been practical - has been a way of detecting obstacles in the path of the walker in a limited-size room.
A compromise system I used to give physicality to virtual objects in a Unity game environment was to use C# scripting to turn off RealSense tracking scripts when the avatar's body parts touched the collider field surrounding another object and then switch tracking back on when the body part separates from the object's surface. This gives the user visual feedback of an impression that the body part had been stopped by making contact with the surface of the object. This could conceivably be expanded to use with real objects that the camera identifies in a room using Scene Perception.
Valve's HTC Vive provides obstacle tracking to its headset wearers with its Lighthouse system, where a pair of sensors are placed in two corners of the room. These rapidly spin a laser that casts a grid across the room and calculates where the player is in the room based on what the laser hits. When the player approaches a physical object such as a wall or piece of furniture, a visual and audio warning is given in the headset. Even though thee is no way for the headset to actually prevent the wearer from walking into a physical obstacle, it has been demonstrated that the feedback alone is enough to make the player change direction or stop walking forward.
The RealSense SAW wearable approaches this problem by converting sensor readings about obstructions into vibrations on an actuator device on the wearable. It is reminiscent of the secret-discovering mechanic in the classic Nintendo 64 console game 'The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time', where walking near to a wall with a secret hidden behind a breakable spot would make the control pad rumble in the hands.
Other thoughts that come to mind when reviewing the SAW website include:
* One of the challenges that the developers of the Vive system have had to deal with is how to miniaturize the system. Beta versions of the equipment had the headset attached to a computer via a weighty worn pack and wires connected to the computer that restricted the mobility of the wearer. It was intended that the final consumer version would be lightweight and wireless.
Whilst SAW is already wireless, it does require an Ultrabook computer. If it uses IP addresses and TCP then I guess the laptop could be located anywhere in the world so long as it could connect to the wearable over the internet via the wi-fi connection. Normally, one would need to be in the proximity of a public free wi-fi connection like those in public places like restaurants and airports if they were using such equipment outdoors. SAW comes with a portable wireless router of its own.
This aspect of the technology would benefit from a clearer explanation, as it is not obvious whether SAW's router is a wireless "dongle" that connects to a nearby wireless internet connection (like the restaurant / airport example above) or whether the router somehow generates its own connection to the internet (like 3G / 4G cellphone internett connections.) The sense that I get from the website is that the portable router attaches to the laptop and SAW uses a wi-fi component to pass data to and from the laptop-attached router. This would suggest that users would be limited to being in the same room that the laptop is in, similar to the Vive system.
If this is the case, it is conceivable though that the system could be made outdoors-portable if the laptop was carried by the user in a backpack. This may not be too much of a problem in regard to weight if it is an Ultrabook. It is also conceivable that data generated by the SAW could be transferred to other people via an internet connection (whether public wi-fi or a cellphone 3g / 4g data cinnection) so that they can experience what the SAW wearer is experiencing and also interact with the wearer by sending data back along the internet connection to the SAW to add to the wearer's experience and expand the potential applications of the SAW.
* Perhaps a couple of vibrators could be added to the hands of the wearer via gloves (similar to the 'repulsor beams' on the hands of Iron Man's suit) so that when the palm was in proximity to an object, the hand receives a vibration.
I'll add more thoughts as I think of them!