Project Anywhere takes virtual reality gaming to new level

A student at ETH Zurich creates what he believes is the most advanced virtual digital avatar ever seen. Constantinos Miltiadis says his Project Anywhere will allow multiple gamers in separate continents to compete in the same virtual space.

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND (RECENT) (PROJECT ANYWHERE) – A Cypriot student has devised what he calls the world’s first “vivid presence in an augmented reality space.” Constantinos Miltiadis, of ETH Zurich, (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich) says his Project Anywhere software allows users to control an avatar with their body, essentially in real-time.

Arguably the most interesting part of Miltiadis’s proof-of-concept kit is his pair of lightweight 3d-printed Inteligloves, which allow gamers to use their hands directly in a game, free of wires. Hand gestures can be programmed to perform a variety of actions in the virtual context.

Made of elastic polylactic acid (PLA), they contain a variety of sensors. Wearing the Inteligloves, Miltiadis listed their components: “This is an elastic PLA material that you can 3D print on a home 3D printer. These are flex sensors, we have a wireless module. This is a nine degree of freedom…how do you call it…inertia measuring unit, so it has an accelerometer, gyroscope, and digital compass.”

Miltiadis attaches his iPhone 5 to his 3D printed omni mask – made of Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic and costing less than five euros – which provides a stereoscopic viewport for the wearer. The data is sent via a Kinect sensor connected to a Java computer program that Miltiadis created. This scans the user’s body to work out his/her exact position, while simultaneously receiving and synchronising an array of data from a web cloud in real time.

According to Miltiadis, “I have a Kinect sensor which is connected to a Java program and it’s scanning for your body position in space. Then it sends this data to a Cloud and you can download it from a phone, and because this application is developed as a multi-player game, you can have multiple devices connected to it. Not only phones, you can have computers and tablets or whatever, and you can have multiple Kinect sensors, so you can have a larger area and more people.”

His software, called Omnitracker, tracks 83 degrees of freedom wirelessly and in real-time via body skeleton and hand gesture, and can be accessed in games that use cross-platform game creation system Unity 3D.

All this fuses together to create what Miltiadis says is the most advanced digital avatar yet seen. It allows multiple gamers to occupy the same virtual space while being physically in separate continents. “You could do some kind of multi-player, like you have some people here and some people in another country and they will all be in the same virtual environment,” he said.

Miltiadis says his invention is unique. “I don’t know of anything else that can have your own body in a digital environment, so you can control an avatar through a joystick but your body doesn’t have any role,” he said. “If you can in real time interact in this kind of augmented reality environment and have your own body as a digital avatar I think this is a different innovation that it brings.”

The work of Miltiadis has impressed his supervising professor Ludgar Hovestadt, who believes it could be useful for architects. “The driving force for actual architecture is the new media, connectivity via the internet and so on, and to be able to arrange these things in a global environment and make a new architectural environment I think it’s very important to understand the substance of these new materials,” said Hovestadt.

Miltiadis admits that shooting games are one of the most obvious beneficiaries of his technology, but insists he is not interested in such an application. He has put forward a proposal for a virtual museum at the Museum of Science Fiction, which is due to open in Washington DC this year. His idea is to rent an empty space containing tracking sensors there, so that visitors could download an application, wear the omni masks, and move around in an empty space full of virtual exhibits. The idea earned him one of the architectural design prizes at the museum’s Arthur C. Clarke awards.