“The lines between reality and virtual reality will become increasingly blurred. I think technology is steamrolling ahead. The technical advances are going to be there. It’s really up to us to see what we’re going to be able to do with them.”
Robert Allison is a professor of computer science and engineering at York University’s Vision Science to Applications (VISTA) program. He doesn’t just work on new ways to display visual information; he also works to understand the human experience of using new technologies like virtual reality (VR) so that they feel seamless, both for content creators and for users.
One of the interesting things about vision, says Allison, is that the images of the world that are projected onto the light-sensitive retinas in our eyes are, in a sense, impoverished. They’re flat projections that need to be built up in our brains so that we can perceive more about the world around us in order to know how we relate to it and how to act within it. And as we move, our surroundings also move in our visual field.
That is one of the aspects that makes virtual reality different from any cinematic experience that came before it. The content that is displayed needs to respond to a user’s movements and gaze in order to create compelling and immersive experiences.
“Understanding the human aspect of human-display interaction is very important,” says Allison. “Technology itself is obviously necessary but not sufficient in order for us to get these better experiences.”
In designing displays, there are always trade-offs. Understanding which elements are critical and which can be sacrificed optimizes the experience. Allison and his team are working with the local film industry to integrate science into the tools that will unlock creative potential in VR.
“What’s really going to take VR to the next level, I think, is creative minds,” says Allison. “I think technologists need to enable the creatives to take this and then say, you have an entire new medium, a new palette you can paint experiences with.
“If we do our jobs right, as technologists, scientists that are building this, this will give an incredible set of tools for people to do things that are different.”