As one of the major tech companies in the VR field of China, unlike a lot of other companies, Noitom actually delivers. They’ve fulfilled their promise of kickstarter, and countinue to invest in virtual reality field. They showed their finger tacking solution (as part of their product Perception Neuron) combined with the vive in yesterday’s HTC Vive Unbound Developer Conference. Surely, this caught our attention. So we just went to their lab and see what they’ve got. But before the questions, let’s get something out of the way first, according to Dr. Tristan Dai, CTO of Noitom, the tracking latency you’ve seen in this video was due to the slow WIFI of the room. And since the carpet was thick and soft there, causing lighthouse shaking a lot, that’s why you saw twitchy-ness and stutter-ness in the video too. And they are shooting videos now for a more finer conditioned situation to show the true power of their system, just wait and see. OK. now that’s been cleared, let’s ask!
VRerse: Dr. Dai, we know you guys have always been working on professional motion capture products/solutions for movies etc. What lead you to make the decision to invest in virtual reality and make the Perception Neuron (congratulations on Game of Thrones winning the Emmy for outstanding special visual effects which used your Perception Neuron)?
Dr. Dai: Thank you very much! We actually found out Rodeo Effects out of Montreal had used Perception Neuron for some of the special effects in Game of Thrones when they mentioned us by name in an interview they did for ANW.com. We were so grateful and honored that they mentioned us. They were even a bit surprised when we called them to thank them!
As far as getting our hands in the VR business, it was kind of a natural evolution of from our animation and VFX roots. Virtual Reality started becoming a buzzword back in 2013. At the same time we saw a growing interest from our customer base to use our MOCAP solutions for VR applications. I, myself, started making demos using our Legacy system and the Oculus DK1 which I had backed in their Kickstarter campaign. With time and the exponential growth in interest and investment in VR, we had to reassess our own strategy to align ourselves with overwhelming market trends. This is where Perception Neuron was born — a low cost full body development platform for VR interaction and an affordable VFX MOCAP solution.
VRerse: Will you continue to evolve Perception Neuron?
Dr. Dai: This is part of our overall strategy. We are constantly unlocking new functions and improving performance. Eventually, we hope to release a second generation. This is a product at the cutting edge and we are pushing the limits of existing affordable technology within the limits of classic mechanics and electromagnetism, but learning everyday and applying that knowledge to improve the product in every way we can.
VRerse: What are your future plans for the product?
Dr. Dai: As I said before, we are always making improvements. Our focus are on the algorithms, software and applications. Our engineering team has kept and will keep improving the algorithms and our software to get higher accuracy, lower latency and more robustness under different environments such as magnetic interference. We are also working to evolve our SDKs, write more plugins for 3rd party software as well as write more demos.
VRerse: In what direction do you think the virtual reality will be going?
Dr. Dai: Even with my VR goggles on I cannot tell the future, but I think it will eventually be a trillion dollar business… Note… eventually! We are just at the infancy stage. Everyone in the business should realize this and not over-promise on the VR dream. What we can deliver today is very different than what we think we can deliver tomorrow — and consumers are very sensitive to this. Disappointment, or what I like to call “bad VR” will be the biggest hurdle to overcome in our industry. VR will definitely grow very fast over the next a few years but if we want it grow even faster we need to be humble, careful and honest. Technology never lies.
VRerse: What is the difference between Chinese and America VR community?
Dr. Dai: Silicon Valley is still the opinion leader in this industry. So it is “easier” for American startups to persuade them that they can change the world or establish some standard for this new industry. Chinese companies still suffer from the “made in china” syndrome. The same way Japan did until the 60s. So for us to be recognized by the global community we must do things 3 times better just to get the same type of exposure. But we also have to remember that China is an enormous market where when things happen, they happen 5 to 10 times faster and bigger. VR is about to boom in China but this market faces the same challenges I have mentioned only multiplied by a factor of 10, and with massive investments. We should make good use of it.
VRerse: You’ve seen Void. What does it look like?
Dr. Dai: It is a great example of system integration.
VRerse: Anything at SIGGRAPH impressed you?
Dr. Dai: There was a Japanese team who had a really creepy VR system they were allowing people to try on. They had a small silicon rubber ‘baby hand’ and a digital glove that the user wore. They also had a remote camera at the baby’s height. The user wore an Oculus headset for a baby’s POV. It looked insanely scary to me but I thought it was really creative.
VRerse: What challenges do you think the VR industry has to tackle in order to succeed?
Dr. Dai: Two words: STANDARDS and CONTENT. Moore’s law will prevail but at the end of the day it all depends on whether we have great content and whether we have a solid technology standard to supports this content.
VRerse: You’ve been to Valve, can you tell us about the trip?
Dr. Dai: We were there for some discussion on the combination of VIVE lighthouse and Perception Neuron Gloves. I really cannot tell you more.
VRerse: What do you think is the ultimate input system for VR?
Dr. Dai: In near future, room scale VR will keep using vision/optical based solutions. Mobile VR will have to use sensor based (inertial sensor) solutions or simple traditional controllers. In the long run, however, a hybrid system, optical-inertial combo, could be a very viable solution.
VRerse: What do you think are the pros and cons of Constellation/Lighthouse/Ps eye tracking from a developer’s stand point?
Dr. Dai: Constellation/Lighthouse and PS tracking systems end up having almost the same performance — Two 6-dof controllers and one 6-dof HMD. Lighthouse is faster (lower latency) and more accurate due to it’s mechanism. Constellation and PS are much easier to expand to larger areas as compared to Lighthouse. The PS tracking system uses smaller markers (as it does not need to form a rigid body by using active marker or optical sensors).
VRerse: This seems to contradict to the popular opinion that Lighthouses are easier to expand.
Dr. Dai: Optical camera based tracking system could just do data fusion on console side, for example with the PS eye solution, Zero Latency from Australia already adopt it. As oppose to Lighthouse when expand you have to consider something like frequency interfere.
VRerse: What are you currently working on?
Dr. Dai: We are currently working on a large scale, multiple user, VR interaction system and we will be releasing this solution very soon. We are also working on a mobile VR interaction solutions. This is a longer term project but we have already made some significant progress on the R&D.
They will be releasing this solution in 15th January 2016. I’ve peaked a little bit behind the curtain, and it’s delicious. Today he told me that Facebook/Oculus invited them as a vendor (purchasing two additional suits!), adding to the long list of HTC, Sony, Nintendo, Samsung, Google, MagicLeap, Intel, Microsoft, TheVOID. Dragon Balls have been collected, It’s time to summon Shenlong and bring the VR-world peace!