In the universe of the Ready Player One novel, people using VR go to a place known as the OASIS, or Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation, which essentially is an open source platform that is the equivalent of the “internet” for VR. In the story, which is set in the year 2045, the basic VR setup consists of an OASIS console, which is a “flat black rectangle about the size of a paperback book” with a built-in wireless antenna, a snug-fitting visor that blocks out external light that has headphones that automatically plug themselves in, “two built-in stereo voice microphones,” retinal scanners, “harmless low-powered lasers to draw the stunningly real environment of the OASIS right onto its wearer’s retinas,” and evidently a way to map facial expressions onto the player’s avatar, and haptic gloves, which are able to track “subtle hand motions to control [the avatar’s] movements and actions” and realistically simulate the feel of objects. This mentioned setup is described by the main character Wade to be “a crappy school-issued OASIS console,” and yet it still is able to render graphics to the point where “virtual surroundings looked almost (but not quite) real.”
The state of the art immersion rig in comparison has the highest frame rate and resolution perceptible to the human eye (more on what this entails later). The audio system consists of an “array of ultrathin speakers mounted on the apartment’s walls, floor, and ceiling, providing 360 degrees of perfect spatial pin-drop sound reproduction.” The user can also purchase a smell tower that is “capable of generating over two thousand discernible odors” For locomotion, there is an omnidirectional treadmill with “built-in lifts and an
amorphous surface, so that it could simulate walking up inclines and staircases.” The book also mentions “anatomically correct haptic doll” to realistically simulate certain encounters, which I will not be going into depth for. Lastly, some of the most important parts of the rig include the haptic chair and haptic feedback suit. The chair is “suspended by two jointed robotic arms” that can “rotate the chair on all four axes” and works in conjunction with the haptic suit, which covers (almost) every inch of the player’s body below the neck and is “covered with an elaborate
exoskeleton, a network of artificial tendons and joints that could both sense and inhibit [the player’s] movements” using a “weblike network of miniature actuators that make skin contact every few centimeters. Unlike the movie however, the user is prevented from feeling pain, so that a bullet ingame feels like a “weak punch.” In terms of preventing latency, the “OASIS [utilizes] a new kind of fault-tolerant server array that [can] draw additional processing power from every computer connected to it,” allowing it to “handle up to five million simultaneous users” during the initial startup phase.
I really liked how real everything seemed to be in the OASIS. I became interested in VR because I always imagined being able to travel to different worlds that are completely outside of my imagination, and the OASIS delivers that, and more, with its incredibly large simulation (which is more than 34 trillion cubic kilometers), high degree of freedom, and easy to use OS (I think the author meant to say SDK). Something I don’t like about the OASIS is its freemium model. The OASIS makes money through several means: it sells virtual real-estate in the first sector, and its main source of income is through virtual fuel and teleportation costs. The whole purpose of virtual reality is to bring simulated worlds to the user, instead of the other way around. This should mean that users shouldn’t have to worry about waiting for transportation. However, the story mentions that a sector is 10 light-hours across (10.8 billion virtual kilometers), which means that if players wanted to travel from one end of the OASIS to another, even with the fastest possible ships they would have to be idle for 30 hours. I also wasn’t particular about the idea that the OASIS has essentially monopolized the VR game market, which implies that there could be no standalone VR applications, with instead people having to travel to a planet in the simulation that supports such an app, which entails incurring expensive costs from travel and the risk of traveling through a dangerous zone. It also seems like the OASIS might need better regulation, because the ability for people to download and use external software easily in the OASIS (the anti-profanity, anti-browsing software used in classrooms) opens the possibility of trolling and hacking in real life, and there doesn’t seem to an easy way to enforce age-restrictions in places such as the virtual brothels mentioned in the story.
A lot of the software mentioned in the novel currently exists to some degree. For example, haptic gloves have been around for as long as headsets, although they have yet to simulate the realism detailed by the story. Console-based VR already exists in the case of Playstation VR, and I believe that we will soon surpass the novel in this aspect, when we put computing power into the headsets themselves. While resolution and framerate still has a ways to go, with foveated rendering (increasing resolution based on eye tracking), we are much closer to the realistic images described in the novel than we might seem. Google’s Staff Hardware Engineer Carlin Vieri said humans are capable of seeing 9,600 x 9,000 pixels per eye; to compare, Vive’s latest product, the Vive Pro sports a resolution of 1440 x 1600 pixels per eye. However, we are getting close, as Google and LG are currently developing a prototype vr display with a resolution of 4,800 x 3,480 pixels per eye. In terms of framerate, 90 FPS (and therefore 90 Hz) is already the industry standard for leading headsets, with some new ones reaching up to 120 Hz, and is enough for images to appear “smooth” to most people, however, according to assistant professor of psychology Jordan DeLong at St Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, to be indistinguishable from reality, the ideal resolution is above 200 frames per second. We are still very far from supporting a universe-sized server, or even a server that can draw computing power from other computers to prevent latency, but for the most part, most technology in the novel exists already, and the bigger barrier is a lack of computing power to drive price down.