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MIT CSAIL Unveils Wireless VR System MoVR that uses Millimeter Waves

Virtual reality (VR) maybe good enough to immerse players in fantastic looking worlds, creating a sense of presence that enables them to feel as if they’re actually there, but for high-end headsets there’s still one problem – wires. Cables enable extremely low latency ensuring smooth VR experiences, whereas wireless technology hasn’t been able to transmit the large amount of data quick enough. Companies are solving that problem – TPCAST has developed a wireless upgrade kit for HTC Vive – and now researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have unveiled a prototype system called MoVR.

MoVR enables untethered gameplay by communicating with PC’s at multiple Gbps, or billions of bits per second using special high-frequency radio signals called “millimeter waves” (mmWaves).

While these mmWaves have promising applications for VR, high-speed Internet (5G) and cancer diagnosis, they do have drawbacks, namely the waves don’t work well with reflections or even the smallest of obstacles. So mmWaves always need line of sight between the transmitter and receiver to function properly for VR entertainment.

MoVR - MIT CSAIL Kit
Photo credit – Jason Dorfman, MIT CSAIL

The MoVR system MIT CSAIL has developed involves a programmable mirror that detects the direction of the incoming mmWave signal and reconfigures itself to reflect it toward the receiver on the headset, being accurate to within two degrees.

“It’s very exciting to get a step closer to being able to deliver a high-resolution, wireless-VR experience,” says MIT professor Dina Katabi, whose research group has developed the technology. “The ability to use a cordless headset really deepens the immersive experience of virtual reality and opens up a range of other applications.

“With a traditional mirror, light reflects off the mirror at the same angle as it arrives,” adds Abari. “But with MoVR, angles can be specifically programmed so that the mirror receives the signal from the mmWave transmitter and reflects it towards the headset, regardless of its actual direction.”

Each MoVR device consists of two directional antennas that are each less than half the size of a credit card.  The antennas use what are called “phased arrays” in order to focus signals into narrow beams that can be electronically steered at a timescale of microseconds.

Researchers tested the system on an HTC Vive but say that it can work with any head-mounted display (HMD). Katabi co-wrote a paper on the topic with PhD candidate Omid Abari, postdoctoral associate Dinesh Bharadia and master’s student Austin Duffield.

Future versions of MoVR’s hardware could be shrunk down, allowing multiple devices to be used in one room. Thus enabling multiplayer VR experiences in the same space without signals being blocked.

VRFocus will follow the development of MoVR, reporting back with any further updates on its progress.