Intel demonstrates “Merged Reality” wireless VR headset, Project Alloy.
Yesterday Intel announced its entry into the virtual reality space with the Project Alloy all-in-one head mounted display. Project Alloy stands alone among the current lineup of technologies available because it isn’t tethered to a desktop computer like HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, nor does it use a smartphone like Google Cardboard, Gear VR or Google Daydream. All the computing power, cameras and sensors used by Project Alloy are completely self-contained. The headset has an inside out tracking system enabled by Intel’s amazing RealSense technology. This provides Leap Motion type hand tracking as well as six-degrees-of-freedom, room-scale positional tracking.
Intel refers to the Project Alloy experience as “Merged Reality” because of its implementation of mixed reality. Much like the Microsoft Hololens the user is looking at the real world and the device overlays virtual objects and avatars into your view so they appear to be part of the real world. Intel’s merged reality flips this and shows you a virtual reality environment where real objects can be brought in to manipulate the virtual.
The most exciting part of the live stage demo at the Intel Developers Forum showed off the intricate hand tracking that uses live images of your real hands. It is so precise that it tracks down to individual finger movements. This was shown by putting a hand into a virtual X-Ray machine, showing computer generated moving bones of the hand tracked in real time.
The demo continued using natural hand motions to push a switch to open another room containing a virtual golden lathe. At this point the demonstrator walked onstage and approached Intel CEO Brian Krzanich who appeared in the virtual display. The demonstrator explained that this is a feature of the device that will keep you from “bumping into walls, crashing into your TV set, or injuring the CEO of a fortune 500 company.”
The lathe itself could be interacted with by hand or a dollar bill held in the hand. Later a prerecorded video showed a woman in a small virtual world complete with a pet dog. On the walls she interacted with traditional 2D software like Outlook mail and calendar, finally opening up a 3D globe and transporting herself to an environment next to the pantheon in Rome.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich called virtual reality, “one of those fundamental shifts that redefines how we work, how we’re entertained, and how we communicate in the world.” Continuing “We believe the capability of Alloy and what it introduces is significant, it gives the opportunity to merge the physical and virtual world together.”
The live demo had a few awkward moments, as most live demos do but was very impressive overall. While there are no specifics available about the contents of the hardware, let alone price or release date, this sets a new mark for the high end of virtual reality and mixed reality in the future.