Drone-driven displays, touchable holograms, and next-generation AR and VR developments will be among the brain-stretching, sense-bending systems showcased as part of Emerging Technologies in the Experience Hall at SIGGRAPH 2017.

Chaired by Jeremy Kenisky of Merge VR, a company specializing in VR-enabled toys for kids aged 10 and up, this year’s Emerging Technologies comprises 24 broad-ranging exhibits highlighting new thinking in a variety of areas. Kenisky told StudioDaily he brought his own perspectives to curating the spotlighted technology, but the selections are anything but single-minded.

“Technology that’s emerging doesn’t necessarily have an obvious application, but it’s an interesting use of technology — or an interesting new technology that we don’t know how to use yet,” Kenisky explained. “This year we have 24 exhibits in a variety of sections. It’s not a completely cohesive exhibit, but the sections all relate to each other and, as a whole, relate to emerging technology in general.”

Hands-on Holograms

With chatter about next-generation displays increasingly centering on the ability to display autostereoscopic or holographic imagery, one significant field of study has to do with making holograms more tangible and interactive. “We have six or seven exhibits dealing with the different ways researchers and technology companies are thinking about touching and interacting with holograms,” Kenisky said, noting that Merge VR will be among the examples.

Merge VR is showing the Merge Cube, which Kenisky described as “a $20 toy that turns into a hologram in your hand” when you’re using it along with a smartphone-driven VR headset. Ultrahaptics will demonstrate its own technology that uses an array of ultrasonic transducers to generate tactile feedback in mid-air. Another approach, Submerged Haptics, uses “fingertip haptic displays” to provide touch feedback. And researchers from Cornell University and Nvidia are presenting a system that uses a handheld controller that adjusts its form to simulate virtual objects.

With every passing year, technology is becoming more attuned to — and in tune with — the workings of the human body, and some of the gadgetry on display is designed to work closely with human physiology. For example, MetaLimbs, presented by researchers from Keio University and the University of Tokyo, gives a user two robotic arms that can be controlled by their legs, feet and toes. “They’ve built a backpack with two robotic arms that you control using your legs,” Kenisky said. “You essentially have four arms now. You can use them to control certain things in front of you, and reserve your real hands for things that require more dexterity.

Making VR/AR Better

Other interesting advances include investigations of better ways to display VR and AR content by taking into account the workings of binocular vision to address the difference between the actual physical distance that a user’s eyes must focus on (the accommodation distance), and the positioning of images in the left-eye and right-eye displays to suggest the depth of objects in the frame (the vergence distance). Two different systems in the Emerging Technologies exhibit work by adjusting the accommodation depth dynamically, matching the focus to the vergence with “accommodation cues” — defocusing objects according to where their gaze is landing.

Also in the line-up is the TwinCam system for reducing motion blur and latency — and thus making “VR sickness” less likely — when headset users turn their heads, as well as Infinite Stairs, a system that uses “visuo-haptic interaction” — that is, combining visual cues with haptic feedback — to make the act of climbing stairs more realistic in a VR environment.

“We also have the VR Village next door,” Kenisky said. “Between Emerging Technologies and VR Village, we have a few exhibits that are more research-focused, extending the technology to make VR better — to perceptually change the way people are experiencing VR with a small space around them.”

Emerging Technologies will be located in SIGGRAPH’s Experience Hall in South Hall G of the Los Angeles Convention Center. Emerging Technologies will be open from Sunday, July 30, through Thursday, August 3. For a complete list of Emerging Technologies exhibits, visit the SIGGRAPH website.

SIGGRAPH 2017: s2017.siggraph.org