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MIT Lab Unveils Prototype Wireless VR Headset Technology

December 2, 2016 By Molly White in

Some of today’s virtual reality (VR) headsets are cumbersome, given that they tether users to computers via HDMI cables in order to deliver high-resolution visuals. But that may change thanks to new developments at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL). An MIT CSAIL research team recently unveiled prototype wireless VR headset technology that allows gamers to use any VR headset wirelessly, according to a Nov. 14 MIT News report.

Known as MoVR, the prototype system in tests transported short-range wireless communications at multi-gigabit per second (Gbps) rates. Given that MoVR can transport wireless data so fast, it might also find a place in emerging next generation 5G mobile devices as well as wireless VR headsets, according to experts, MIT News adds

Wireless VR Headset Technology

Incorporating two directional antennas, each less than half the size of a credit card, the prototype MoVR devices use “phased arrays” to concentrate signals into narrow beams that can be directed to receivers.

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

MoVR transports wireless data via high frequency millimeter waves. The MIT research team tested the system using an HTC Vive handset, but pointed out that any VR headset will do.

The research team needed to overcome several challenges in building a functional MoVR prototype. Prominent among these was overcoming WiFi’s lack of advanced data processing capabilities.

“Replacing the HDMI cable with a wireless link is very challenging since we need to stream high-resolution multi-view video in real-time,” explained Haitham Hassanieh, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign who was not involved in the research. “This requires sustaining data rates of more than 6 Gbps while the user is moving and turning, which cannot be achieved by any of today’s systems.”

Complicating matters further, VR headset developers cannot make use of data compression methods and techniques given that VR platforms need to function in real-time. The MIT research team turned to millimeter wave technology to solve the problem.

Using millmeter waves to transport data wirelessly comes with a trade-off, however. Millmeter waves can be blocked easily, even by waving your hand between your face and the transmission source. That means MoVR headset users would need to stay in direct line of sight with the transmission source, MIT News points out.

The research team worked around that problem as well, however. They developed and equipped MoVR with a programmable mirror that redirects wireless signals received from the millimeter wave transmitter so that they’re reflected towards the headset.

“With a traditional mirror, light reflects off the mirror at the same angle as it arrives,” MIT Ph.D. candidate and research group member Omid Abari explained. “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.”

Looking ahead, Abari said future versions of MoVR hardware could be reduced to the size of a smartphone. Placing several devices in one room would enable multiple people to play a VR video game simultaneously.