Cheap Controllerless VR
Recently, I’ve taken a bit of an interest in VR thanks to Ready Player One. I’ve had a Google Cardboard and a Leap Motion controller for a while now and thought it would be neat to combine the two so that I could see my hands in VR. After a few days of research and playing around I was able to get it working, albeit with a giant caveat. Originally, I wanted to be able to connect my Leap Motion directly to my Android phone for a completely wireless experience. However, this is no longer possible due to Leap Motion discontinuing its Android SDK. So, you’ll have to have a computer act as the “intermediary” between the Leap Motion and Cardboard device for now.
The things that I used to get my set up going were as follows:
* Google Cardboard
* An Android Phone
* A computer running a LeapMotion compatible OS
* Leap Motion controller with a 6-foot cord
* Velcro straps
* 3m picture hanging strips
The velcro straps are used to secure the headset to your head and allow it to adjust to different size and shaped heads in case your family or friends want to try it out.
The 3m picture hanging strips are used to safely attach your Leap Motion controller to the front of the Cardboard device without damaging either.
Riftcat is an application that runs on both your computer and Android device and basically tricks your computer into thinking your phone is a VR headset. The free version limits you to 5 to 10 minutes of “play” time, but for $15 you get unlimited time. Before you purchase it though, I would recommend that you have everything set up and working.
Steam is needed to configure your headset via SteamVR. If you don’t have SteamVR installed, you’ll want to install it and once Riftcat is running and connected to your phone, you will also want to run SteamVR’s configuration application. This is a very important step that I neglected to do in the beginning. If you don’t do it, then you’ll be at ground level for every VR application which can make it difficult to use.
After you’ve successfully run the configuration for SteamVR you’re ready to run any VR application. I’d suggest running Leap Motion’s “Blocks” example. After the application is running, you will need to ensure the app has focus by clicking on its window. For some reason, I have to do this every time. Once it’s running though, you should be able to look out in front of you and see your hands moving and interacting with the environment. The first time I saw this was incredible and I think the future of VR lies with this kind of controller-less approach.
After having toyed around with this set up for a while, I’ve noticed a few “gotchas” with it: 1) Riftcat will crash on you, but you only need to restart it to get going again, 2) The screen will “glitch” out every now and then, this could be caused by poor Wifi performance, or an underpowered laptop and/or phone, 3) My phone gets *very* hot. Not hot enough to start a fire, but definitely hot enough where I need to let it cool down before putting it back into my pocket. It usually takes about 20 minutes of play time to get this hot.
Overall, I think this is an excellent introduction to VR and a great way to experiment without spending too much. You won’t have quite the immersive experience that you would with an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, but if you are only looking for a cheap introduction to VR this approach is worth it.
Let me know if you tried this approach, have other questions, or if you run into any problems! I’d love to hear your experiences and your thoughts on the future of VR!