Working in virtual reality

Inspired by a post by Paul Tomlinson, I wrote my last blog post entirely in virtual reality (VR). You put on goggles and see a virtual version of your computer screen wherever you would like. Otherwise, everything around you can be anything you would like. Right now, I am floating in space, I can see the stars all around me.

Why would you ever want to work in this manner? One of the most obvious benefits is immersion. You can setup a working environment that is ideally suited for your work, with all the right screens and windows. You can be free from distractions. There may also be accessibility benefits: it gives you more freedom in how your physical body is set.

I had explored the idea of a virtual office before, but the screen resolution of my early HTC Vive made reading computer text just too painful. The hardware is better today.

I must admit that the claim that it could make your more productive is speculative at this point. However, progress depends on us being unreasonable. You need to try out crazy ideas if you hope for progress.

I had my wife take a picture:

I used an old Oculus Quest. It was my second experience. The second last blog post was written partially in VR, but my Oculus Quest ran out of power before I could complete the experience.

Like Tomlinson, I used Immersed VR as the software. I do not have any financial interest in either Immersed VR or Oculus. Here are my thoughts:

  1. It works. The hardware is really fantastic, as always, even though it is an old Quest (1.0). The software works. I had minor issues, like the application somehow becoming irresponsive, but I could easily be productive all day long.
  2. Maybe because I need to wear glasses, the experience is not as great as it could be, I feel mild pressure on my nose, but it is reportedly possible to buy vision-adjusted glasses. I am going to have to investigate.
  3. I was expecting that reading text in VR would prove difficult, but it is not. Importantly,  because you can put as many gigantic windows as you want around you, having a slightly lesser-than-perfect resolution is ok.
  4. The main difficulty is proving to be that I cannot see my keyboard. I rely on my peripheral vision to locate my fingers in relation with the keyboard. It is fine once I start typing and that I do not need to press uncommon keys. But if I need to do move my hands outside their usual typing position, I lose track of their exact position of the keyboard. I end up frequently hitting the wrong key. As you can see in the picture, I am using a wireless keyboard and a wireless mice. Working directly on the laptop proved too annoying because it has a flat surface that makes it hard for me to locate the keyboard. At least, with a standalone keyboard, I can feel the exact location of the keyboard. I suspect that changing the keyboard type could help. I tried with a gaming (mechanical) keyboard and it seemed to work better. There is a way to make a virtual version of your keyboard appear in virtual reality but, so far, it did not help me enough. For now, I just put some stickers on the keyboard to help my fingers, but it only helps so much.
  5. Whenever I take off the Quest and put it back, my windows have moved. Since it also moves the virtual keyboard, it makes the virtual keyboard much less interesting. I ended up not using it. I try hard to avoid having to take off the goggles while I work.
  6. Power usage is a concern. The Quest is standalone but it has a small battery and limited autonomy. So I have a small power cable connected to it.
  7. The Quest takes a few seconds to boot up. The application (Immersed VR) also takes a few seconds. You cannot just shut the Quest down and resume from your last work session.
  8. Many of us work in videoconference. Clearly, nobody wants to watch me wearing  a VR headset. There is reportedly a virtual webcam. I have yet to try it.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

2 thoughts on “Working in virtual reality”

  1. I am not a touch typist, so keyboard problems seem to be the big hold up in the use of VR.

    What seems to me to be necessary is a way of detecting where the fingertips are so that they can be shown with either a real keyboard or a virtual keyboard. This seems to apply some sort of gloves or even a Band-Aid type stick on which goes over the fingertips. Using some sort of capacitive device like the cards which let you into doors that I’ve used in the past might be usable since otherwise power might be a problem.

    Once the fingertip location problem has been solved, then we have to decide between a physical and virtual keyboard. Virtual would be easier to initially implement since we could just have a virtual keyboard with a location locked in space so that when the fingertips move they move relative to the keyboard. I don’t know whether an actual keyboard would be easier to implement.

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