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Look ma, no wires! Intel's Project Alloy gives VR full freedom of movement

During the Intel Developer Forum 2016 opening keynote on Tuesday, company CEO Brian Krzanich finally revealed the company’s virtual reality project, aka “Project Alloy.” The headset is completely untethered, meaning users can move about freely without cords, and without an additional PC and battery strapped to their back. It’s utterly self-contained and appears to be rather comfortable to wear, despite its current bulky size.

That said, Project Alloy features a built-in battery that appears to reside on the backside of the device’s head strap. The only cord that was used during Intel’s keynote presentation was one to project the wearer’s viewpoint onto the big screen for all to see. Project Alloy does not require external sensors nor does it require controllers for moving and interacting with the environment. Instead, the headset relies on a pair of Intel RealSense sensors.

Thanks to these sensors, wearers have a full six degrees of freedom within the virtual world. These sensors can track every movement, enabling room-scale mobile VR. One sensor mounted on the front can even “scan” real objects and bring them into the virtual realm in real time, such as the wearer’s hand or another person’s head.

Related: Intel confirms 2016 arrival of 3D XPoint-based Optane SSD

In a demo, the user approached a virtual X-ray machine with his real hand and saw the bones underneath. He then interacted with a virtual switch using his actual hand too. After that, the demo went on to reveal that Project Alloy supports multi-room environments, allowing the wearer to physically walk into the new virtual area. Because the headset has the RealSense sensor on the front, he doesn’t bump into actual physical objects, including the CEO of Intel standing in his space on stage.

But users aren’t limited to just their hands. As previously stated, the RealSense sensor will bring in any object that can be used to interact with the environment. In the demo, the wearer used a real dollar bill to shave a virtual spinning object. You can actually see the wearer’s hand holding the dollar bill in the virtual realm, not a rendered stand-in.

Right now, the headset looks rather bulky, with the main component firmly supported on the wearer’s face by the weighted battery on the back of his head. This unit is supposedly completely balanced, and will likely reduce in size as Intel fine-tunes the components within. Thus, because it’s self-contained, the Intel-powered computer resides inside the device, which likely resembles a NUC.

Intel Project Alloy

That all said, Intel is expanding upon the foundation established by the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive by mixing the real world with a virtual environment. It’s the exact opposite of Microsoft’s HoloLens headset, which projects holograms into the user’s view of the real world. However, Krzanich indicated that Project Alloy would be able to bring the virtual into the real world at some point in the project’s future.

Intel’s initial keynote opened up with the possibility of VR becoming so life-like it will be hard to distinguish it from the real world. That’s the road Intel plans to take with Project Alloy, and while the current system is capable of bringing real objects into VR, the “scans” aren’t particularly high resolution just yet. The project is still very much in development, but it’s a good indication of where virtual and mixed reality are heading.