Technology 3 min read

Meet DreamWalker: Microsoft's Spin on VR Commute

A new virtual reality technology from Microsoft, called DreamWalker, allows users to walk through real-world settings while exploring virtual environments.

Screenshot from Microsoft Research YouTube video DreamWalker: Substituting Real-World Walking Experiences with a Virtual Reality | Microsoft Research YouTube Channel

Screenshot from Microsoft Research YouTube video "DreamWalker: Substituting Real-World Walking Experiences with a Virtual Reality" | Microsoft Research YouTube Channel

With its HoloLens technology, Microsoft is one of the trailblazing companies in the mixed reality (MR) industry.

But now the company has unveiled a new virtual reality technology that reimagines how the physical and digital worlds would interact and coexist in the future.

It is named DreamWalker, after “dream walking,” a type of lucid dreaming, or being in someone else’s dream.

Microsoft DreamWalker: VR and Real Walking Experiences all in One

Imagine a live view not just sprinkled here and thereby digital elements, but that’s completely virtual, and which keeps evolving as you walk. A total immersion in a VR walking experience that shuts out the real world but follows its itineraries without interruption.

That’s an approximate description of the new VR tech, called DreamWalker, developed by Microsoft researchers and unveiled last month.

It’s not too dissimilar from sleepwalking where an individual is asleep and completely disconnected from the physical world yet aware of the surroundings. A sleepwalker may experience rich fantasies while walking around and avoiding obstacles.

Microsoft’s system walks the user through a virtual world while guiding them to their real-life destination. And it’s reactive to physical obstacles and surroundings.

DreamWalker is Microsoft’s imagination of an always-on VR world. With this new concept, Microsoft said it replaces the real-world walking experiences with virtual reality.

“We explore a future in which people spend considerably more time in virtual reality, even during moments when they walk between locations in the real world. In this paper, we present DreamWalker, a VR system that enables such real-world walking while users explore and stay fully immersed inside large virtual environments in a headset,” said Microsoft team in their research paper.

However, for now, the system is much bulkier than just a VR headset. It also consists of, in addition to the headset, a GPU backpack computer, a phone for dual-band GPS, RGBD cameras, batteries, and other gear.

The researchers recruited eight participants and asked them to test the DreamWalker system by walking around in the Microsoft campus while having Manhattan in VR overlayed on the physical settings.

As you can see, the graphics in DreamWalker don’t invite you to turn off scenes from the real world and switch to VR. there’s still a lot of work to put into graphic design and the system’s miniaturization. Plus, a morning walk could be more complicated and dangerous than a care-free stroll on Microsoft’s campus. A single spatial miscalculation could send the walker into a car. However, this means there’s a large room for DreamWalker to improve.

The team showed off DreamWalker technology at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST) 2019 in New Orleans.

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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