While nature has failed to provide humanity with a 360-degree visual sensory input, we can once again turn to technology to swoop in and make up for the shortcomings of our evolutionary process. Scientists in France have developed a headset that promises to give users the ability to see everything around them thanks to a smart combination of high and low tech devices balanced on top of a helmet. Yes, for once they really do manage this with mirrors… well, at least partially.
Created by a team of technicians and scientists from the Grande École d’Ingenieurs Paris-Laval, the system known as FlyVIZ relies upon visual information fed from a helmet-mounted video camera to a modified Sony Personal 3D Viewer headset. When worn by the user, the camera feed processes data to a laptop inside the user’s backpack. Images are captured at a modest 640 x 480 pixel resolution, but there are already plans to bump that up to 720 pixels in the near future. It would be too obvious for the camera to just relay images of what’s directly in front of the viewer; instead, thanks to specially-shaped mirrors surrounding the helmet, the visual feed can reflect what is happening all around the person wearing the headset.
After two years of development, tests are currently underway with a prototype of the system’s current incarnation. According to the team responsible, initial tests have proven particularly promising: Although the 1.6 kilogram weight and design of the prototype headset/backpack/laptop combo doesn’t exactly allow for casual ease of movement, those testing the FlyVIZ have been able to both catch objects thrown at them from outside of their traditional range of vision, dodge objects thrown at them from behind, and even drive a car with the only visual input coming from the FlyVIZ viewer.
Surprisingly, continued use of the headset doesn’t seem to result in any ill effects for the wearer, with no reports so far from testers of any kind of nausea, motion sickness, or visual fatigue. Although the team admits that new users require about 15 minutes to get used to the unfamiliar sensory input, it appears that all testers to date have been able to maintain their depth perception despite the 2D images offered by the camera. Apparently, the viewer subconsciously “fills in” the missing data, “intuitively tracking object motion and parallax in the image to compensate for a lack of normal binocular vision,” according to a report in New Scientist.
The team from the Grande École d’Ingenieurs plan to continue refining FlyVIZ over the coming months, with a view for its possible eventual use in emergency situations or potentially in armed combat.