Oculus Connect: Company Chief Scientist Outlines Research Agenda Including Touch, Hearing and Smell

"Getting to the next level will require advances in more than a dozen individual technologies," said Michael Abrash.
Courtesy of Oculus

Oculus chief scientist Michael Abrash urged attendees to “build the future together” as he outlined an enormous virtual reality research effort that will involve developments that address the human perceptual system, reconstructing reality and interactivity.

Speaking Thursday at the Oculus Connect 2 developers conference in Hollywood, the scientist asked the crowd in the Dolby Theatre to imagine “the ability  to create your own workspace, maybe with books or white boards, where colleagues could teleport in for a meeting or friends can stop by. … Whatever it is, VR has the potential to bring it to life. But getting to the next level will require advances in more than a dozen individual technologies.”

On work to address the human perceptual system, he's optimistic about improved hearing and smell. “There’s a clear path to doing it perfectly,” he said of hearing. “Twenty years from now you’ll be able to hear a virtual pin drop. The question is how far we’ll come in the next five years. ... There's lots of potential for smell in VR, but it will take lots of research to drive it forward."

Abrash noted that the industry does need to find out how to address motion sickness, which some users do experience.

His agenda also includes visual improvements including a wider field of view, image quality, variable depth of focus and high dynamic range.

Haptics — interaction involving touch — he said is “still in a very early stage and will need research.”

During his address, Abrash also discussed the potential of mixed reality. “For mixed reality we need to interact with real objects, and we also need to be able to track bodies and objects, and render them in real time. Research is being done.”

Human faces, he noted, as especially difficult to reconstruct; he showed some recent work in this area.

On interactivity, touch is just the start. “We really want a virtual keyboard, levers and other controls that work as well as actual controls," he said.

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