RoomAlive: Turning a Whole Room into a Gaming System
You may have heard of the holodeck from Star Trek – an enclosed room in which people and objects are simulated and holographic images are projected. Inside the holodeck, you can be anywhere you want to be and it has been the pipe dream of technology companies for decades to be able to create one.
But it could become a reality! Or, at least, something very similar to a holodeck has finally been created!
Microsoft has created a prototype gaming system that turns a whole room into an interactive, augmented reality display. RoomAlive is able to turn any room into an interactive gaming space, building heavily on another research project called IllumiRoom that Microsoft unveiled last year.
IllumiRoom used a projection system linked to a next-gen Xbox that was about to be unveiled, and showed that gaming could be extended from just being displayed on the television to cover the surrounding walls, as well.
But while IllumiRoom focused mainly on expansive display, RoomAlive is all about user interaction. Just like IllumiRoom, RoomAlive combines Xbox Kinect technology and projectors, but users can actually interact with the projections.
“RoomAlive enables any space to be transformed into an augmented, interactive display,” explained Hrvoje Benko, one of the researchers behind the project. “Users can touch, shoot, stomp, dodge, and steer projected content that seamlessly coexists with their existing physical environment.”
But how is this done? Depth cameras are mounted on the ceiling of the room and are able to work out the dimensions of the room so that any surface inside can be used as a display. Six Kinect sensors keep tabs on gamers in the room, tracking the positions of their heads to make sure that content is rendered appropriately.
The Microsoft research team released video demonstrations of players using RoomAlive, showing virtual critters scurrying over all surfaces, with users shooting and hitting them. One demonstration showed a player controlling a projected robot that could shoot projected “bad guys” that would appear from behind the room’s furniture.
“With enough computing power, depth cameras, and projectors, it is possible to create these immersive environments within an ordinary living space,” Benko said. “Augmented reality fundamentally changes the nature of communication, with rich interactions not just for entertainment, but also for work and collaboration.”
Sadly, RoomAlive is currently just a proof-of-concept gaming system, showing what is possible to be created. The combination of the video projectors and multiple Kinect sensors is considered too expensive to roll out commercially at the moment. However, Microsoft does envision a future where the technology could be produced on a smaller scale and at a cost that would be appealing to customers.
Either way, RoomAlive might not be a holodeck just quite yet, but it is certainly a great big step closer to one, and therefore something to be very excited about.