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Fighting For the Future
How Vicon technology helps teams save the world in Navrtar & VR Arcade’s free-roaming virtual reality experiences.
Origin by Vicon powers Navrtar and VR Arcade as they create the future of location-based entertainment in the virtual reality industry.
For decades virtual reality has been promising users full immersion in digital worlds, but it’s only now – thanks in no small part to the advancement of motion-tracking technology such as Origin by Vicon – that the potential is being realized.
Navrtar is the UK’s first free-roaming virtual reality and bar, designed to offer users a social, location-based experience that plunges them into new worlds rife with zombies, aliens and criminals. Worlds that users are able to explore and interact with freely thanks to Origin by Vicon.
Co-founders Nik Parmar and Saaj Kanani saw the potential for VR to finally go mainstream when affordable hardware such as PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive began to hit the market, but those headsets were all initially limited to the confines of the users’ homes. They explored London to find an operator offering a deeper VR experience but found the capital lacking. In the UK VR was still, says Saaj, a technology “which had incredible amounts of potential, but with limitations of space, wires and the inability to interact with other players.”
“Really the aspect of it is we wanted the social experience. We find that people will want to do stuff together,” says Nik.
A lot of ‘social’ virtual reality experiences, Nik notes, involve people being together in a virtual space but being separate in physical space. Furthermore, movement is limited and defined by controller accessories, with little range for bodily motion.
Nik and Saaj cast a wider net, exploring Europe and Asia to find the offering they were looking for until they found VR Arcade, with motion-tracking powered by Vicon’s Origin system, in the Netherlands.
VR Arcade, founded just a couple of years earlier, had found that between the arrival of affordable VR headsets, powerful content creation tools such as the Unity game engine and adaptable motion capture technology, it had become viable to quickly establish itself as a leader in the space. With three locations, VR Arcade already knew how to set up a virtual reality experience in a preexisting space with a minimum of fuss.
Nik and Saaj quickly decided that they would partner with VR Arcade to establish a franchise and bring the experience to London. Navrtar was born.
Inside one of VR Arcade’s spaces a VR headset, with a dedicated wearable PC to run it, waits for each user, leaving them unencumbered by trailing wires. But it’s Vicon’s Origin motion tracking technology that allows the user to move, and for that movement to be reflected in the game. In the first version of VR Arcade the company used a competitor’s motion tracking set-up, but they were finding its maintenance, operation and upkeep unwieldy. It wasn’t something they wanted to replicate as their operations evolved.
“At that point we wanted something that was stable, reliable, and which worked without a technician on sites,” says VR Arcade CTO, Wilco Vos. “Vicon basically pitched to us a system that will work wherever, whenever, and we now have five systems up and running.”
Origin consists of Viper, a self-healing tracking camera; Pulsar, wearable tracking clusters that emit unique, active infrared LED patterns for Viper to track; Beacon, which creates a seamless wireless network that ties together Vicon devices and Evoke, a highly-automated software platform that integrates with the Unity and Unreal games engines, provides unbreakable tracking and, crucially, auto heals cameras that may have been knocked during a session.
“It’s night and day compared to what we are used to,” says Vos. “And the auto healing is very important in that the system will get bumps, it will get interference, but it will recover itself. There are no doubts. We just know it’ll do what it’s supposed to do.”
Furthermore, the whole system can be operated via Evoke which, with its fully featured API, enabled VR Arcade to build an intuitive app that allows invisible in-game trouble-shooting and speedy maintenance.
Between Origin’s self-healing capabilities and user-friendly operation the system allows a key requirement for VR operators to be met – high throughput. Since they don’t need to spend time rectifying camera issues or recalibrating Evoke, Navrtar and VR Arcade are able to get users into a new session in under a minute without the need for highly trained technicians.