It’s long been thought that the line between virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will blur, and the two technologies will eventually meet with one piece of hardware capable of doing both. Stereolabs is aiming to help that merger along, with the launch of the ZED mini development kit this month.
The ZED mini depth camera turns a HTC Vive or Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD) into an AR capable device. By clipping ZED mini to the HMD, Stereolabs’ new depth camera captures the real world in stereo while simultaneously mapping it, allowing videogames and other 3D applications treat the real and virtual worlds as one with proper occlusion, collision, lighting, pathing and more between them.
After attachment to the front of an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, the ZED mini feeds stereoscopic video from its two camers into the headset, letting the user see the real world. Stereolabs’ software simultaneously uses those video feeds to scan the environment and track its position within it, creating a fully-fledged AR device.
ZED mini is the little brother of the ZED, a long-range depth camera already widely used for drones, robots, 3D mapping and mixed reality (MR). It uses this same technology to provide stereoscopic images, depth, tracking and spatial mapping data to the application in real time, allowing a videogame or other app to treat real objects and environments in the same fashion as virtual objects. The ZED mini differs in that its cameras are closer together than the ZED’s at 65mm apart, meaning they line up with an average human’s eyes, allowing for its pass-through AR features.
The reduced baseline also allows it to map objects very close to the depth camera, such as the user’s hands or objects held within them, but can still map surfaces up to 15 meters away. Furthermore, Stereolabs’ own inside-out tracking technology means the HMDs no longer require their own tracking solutions, such as the Oculus Rift’s Constellation Trackers or the HTC Vive’s Lighthouse base stations. The camera connects via USB-C and attaches to the VR headset via a compatible mount.
For developers and content creators, Stereolabs will release an updated ZED SDK to coincide with the ZED mini launch. The update will include plugins for the Unity and Unreal Engine that make it easy to integrate virtual objects, lighting, particles and effects that properly integrate and collide with the real world. Developers will also be able to use HTC Vive motion controllers, Oculus Touch, PlayStation Move and other controllers and publish their applications on Steam.
The ZED mini will ship with several example apps for reference: an interactive planetarium, a virtual, resizable big-screen TV and a mini-game where users battle laser-flinging drones with lasers. Owners of the existing ZED camera can already start developing with the ZED SDK as apps developed for the ZED will be compatible with the ZED mini and vice versa.
The ZED mini will ship to developers on 18th December 2017, priced at $449 USD. Pre-orders are available from the official Stereolabs website and VRFocus will keep you updated with all the latest details on the ZED mini.