VR headset can give you 360-degree vision like an owl

A virtual reality system and a head-mounted 360-degree camera make it possible to look directly behind you without twisting your entire body.

Humans can gain the ability to turn their gaze 360 degrees like an owl with a virtual reality headset and specialist software. Researchers say the technique could help fighter pilots during dogfights.

The ‘owl vision’ VR system lets you see directly behind you by turning your head 90 degrees
Ganesh Gowrishankar/UM-CNRS Laboratoire d’Informatique, de Robotique et de Microélectronique de Montpellier

Normally, humans only have a 180-degree range of vision by turning our heads from side to side. This increases to 240 degrees if we move our eyes and 360 degrees if we rotate our abdomen too. But this isn’t always comfortable task and may not be possible in some situations.

Ganesh Gowrishankar at the Montpellier Laboratory of Computer Science, Robotics, and Microelectronics in France and his colleagues have developed a system that allows a user to easily see all the way around with just small neck movements.

The team added a 360-degree camera to the top of an HTC Vive Pro Eye headset, which can measure head rotation and display a portion of the panoramic video feed from the camera.

The researchers also added a layer of software that doubles the head rotation when selecting what part of the camera feed to show. This means that when the wearer turns their head 10 degrees, their field of view is rotated 20 degrees. When turning their neck 90 degrees to one side, they can see directly behind.

Gowrishankar says that test subjects quickly adapted to how far they needed to rotate their head and where they needed to reach out with their hands to touch an object they saw – but they needed a similarly short period to re-adapt once they took the device off.

“It doesn’t overload your cognitive system. It provides you the agency to see where you want,” says Gowrishankar. “Surprisingly, it’s quite easy – you don’t get very surprised by it and you are able to just understand it very quickly, and adapt to it as well. So it seems to work very well from my perspective.”

The researchers believe the technique could find practical applications where people are seated and working in virtual or augmented reality. For instance, a fighter pilot could look all the way behind for adversaries, or a robot operator could see a remote site in 360 degrees.


Proceedings of the Augmented Humans International Conference 2024 DOI: 10.1145/3652920.3653048

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