How VR was Born - An Interview with Fred Brooks
Great interview over on Medium by Hayim Pinson with Fred Brooks on Virtual Reality.
Since joining IBM in 1956, Fred Brooks has been part of many of the most breakthrough computer technologies — working on some of the early computers. From the first generation of electromechanical computers, to vacuum tubes and finally modern transistors. Meanwhile becoming one of the most influential computer designers of the 20th century. Brooks has received numerous awards, including the National Medal of Technology in 1985 as well as the Turing Award in 1999.
Brooks is known for his book The Mythical Man-Month, which popularized and coined the term ‘Brooks’s Law,’ which states that a late software project is actually delayed with the addition of manpower. Brooks, as project manager, changed the IBM System/360 Series from a 6-bit to an 8-bit byte, thus enabling the use of lower-case letters. “The change propagated everywhere.”
When question about the challenges of designing for virtual reality, Brooks said,
In 1965, Ivan Sutherland gave a phenomenal speech [in] which he proposed virtual reality (VR). The key concept is “don’t look at this thing as a screen. Look at this thing as a window through which one looks into a virtual world. The research challenge in virtual worlds is [making] the picture in the window look real, move real, sound real, and even feel real.” And so for the last 50 [years], we’ve been trying to do that.
In our laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, we started making head-mounted displays (HMD) in the 1970’a. Working with the technology that we had at the time, we used small television displays mounted vertically over the eyes and mirrors at 45 degrees that reflected the image into the eyes.
Some of the hard problems are image generation at necessary speeds, tracking where the eyes are, and developing the graphic capabilities to display high resolution colored images. The graphics processing has to be at a minimum of 30 frames per second (FPS) (Now the technology can manage to do 72 to 120 FPS).
The hardest technical problem with immersive environments is latency (the delay between the receipt of a stimulus by a sensory nerve and the response to it, in this case the screen).
A friend of mine was telling me how fighter pilots (in simulators) notice at 55 milliseconds that something is wrong; however, at 50 milliseconds they don’t notice. Now this is true specifically for flight simulators where the image is distant,so that you don’t have swift motion in front of your eyes. The same person told me 20 years later, “We’ve discovered now that if we’re doing aerial refueling, where there’s another plane and a boom closeby, we have to have latencies down to 25 milliseconds”. Similarly, in VR, it turns out that we need to get latencies below 20 milliseconds, preferably below 12 milliseconds.
Read the full interview here: