With the help of 360 degree video and the Oculus Rift DK2 VR headset, a great-grandfather in an assisted-living community got a chance to virtually celebrate with his family this past Thanksgiving.

Martin (reddit alias jwsimmons) has been using virtual reality technology to put retired pilots back into the cockpit at the Harbour Pointe Assisted Living Community. For Thanksgiving he wanted to do something special.

The holiday’s focal point is a dinner of family and friends, usually involving enough turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy to put you to sleep. Although the food is a big draw, (depending upon your family) it’s the people that matter. Martin dreamed up a way to let a great-grandfather join his family’s Thanksgiving dinner remotely from the assisted living community. Martin shared a behind-the-scenes look at the project.

NHK, the Japanese public broadcaster, documented the event for their new multi-part VR documentary, Next World (Japanese link), which will air starting January 3rd, 2015. Although our kanji is a little rusty (read: nonexistent), as far as we can tell there is no word as of yet if an English language version will be officially released, so in the meantime we’ll be keeping our eyes open for any fan subs come January.

The documentary crew also helped organize the meeting between the family that hosted the Thanksgiving dinner and the video content provider, VR Playhouse, a studio that focuses on 360 degree footage for festivals and documentaries.

Although not considered true telepresence (like in the movie Surrogates {2009}) as the action wasn’t transmitted live and no realtime manipulation or conversation could take place on great-grandaddy’s end, the family made sure to address the camera naturally to make the tele-diner feel like part of the scene. Martin tells us that he’s working to bring live-streaming into the fold for future projects.


Telepresence Tech

Right now positional tracking is off the table for 360 degree video—a pity because it’s one of the Oculus Rift DK2’s most valuable features. Despite this setback, the ability to virtually observe immersive 360 degree experiences through a VR headset—like the intimate setting of a dinner, or the raucous fans of a football game—actually utilizes some (relatively) inexpensive devices as far as optics and camera lenses are concerned.

The technology used in the Thanksgiving transmission consisted of an array of six GoPro cameras that captured the 360 degree video, with a mount much like the H3Pro6  (warning: GoPros not included)—no small chunk of change at an estimated $1,700 USD minimum investment for the full rig. It’s quite the price to pay, but still attainable for a committed content provider or enthusiast looking to get into the field.

See Also: NextVR’s Stereoscopic 360-degree VR Cam Uses $180,000 Worth of RED 6K Cameras

However if you’re willing to sacrifice image quality to meet a lower price point, or willing to wait for a few device cycles, you too could be virtually ignoring your racist uncle in the very near future.

With the addition of ultra-low latency video streaming and a robotic mount like the gyroscopically balanced Double Telepresence Robot, combined with Rift-accessible 360 degree video, we could be regularly interacting in real spaces sooner than we ever imagined—going to work, teaching a class, or even breaking out of a locked room.

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  • Paulo Cunha

    Sorry, but I can’t help to think what would it be like Black Friday with an Oculus Rift and all avatars with proper collision detection :D