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New Technology Brings Skeletal Tracking to Multi-Player Virtual Reality Experiences

Virtual reality in movie theaters and malls is about to get a whole lot more realistic, thanks to new tracking technology introduced by OptiTrack this week. The company, which is already supplying tracking solutions to The Void and other location-based VR startups, introduced a new whole-body VR tracking solution at SigGraph in Los Angeles Monday that could be one more step towards making loction-based virtual reality mainstream.

The new solution is based on a kind of puck that players in VR centers and arcades can attach to their hands and feet. Combined with any data gathered from tracking their VR headsets and any additional equipment, these pucks will help to enable whole-body tracking in multiplayer virtual reality worlds.

OptiTrack started selling its 3D tracking solutions into multiple industries about a decade ago. The company’s customers include visual effects companies, which use OptiTrack’s technology to add some human touch to animated characters by putting real-life actors and athletes into motion capture suits, among other things.

A few years ago, OptiTrack’s executives realized that they could sell the same technology to VR companies as well, in part because all of the hardware vendors in the emerging VR world were specializing on non-commercial applications. “Oculus and Vive have both very good trackers — but they are limited to room-scale,” said OptiTrack Chief Strategy Officer Brian Niles during a recent interview with Variety.

VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive offer positional tracking to accurately reproduce movements in a 3D space, but both are currently restricted to a areas measuring between 100 and 150 square-feet — big enough for a living room, but not for a VR center.  That’s why OptiTrack repurposed some of its technology to work in significantly larger spaces, measuring 10,000 square feet and beyond.

In addition to bigger areas, OptiTrack’s tech also allows VR center operators to track a much wider range of props to make sure that flashlights, guns and other objects you might pick up in a VR experience are accurately represented in the virtual world. And now, the company is extending this kind of tracking to the players themselves, allowing multi-player experiences to accurately relay the movements of all players in VR. “This is the first skeletal tracking of these players,” said Niles.

OptiTrack also introduced self-calibrating tracking systems at SigGraph Monday, which could further simplify the operation of VR arcades. Motion tracking, whether used in the context of VR or for visual effects, has long required frequent calibration of the cameras used. Operators typically re-calibrate their sets every single day to account for small structural movements, which requires employees to walk through the space and wave a special wand to make sure that all cameras still track everything accurately.

Now, OptiTrack’s systems can do this kind of calibration by themselves, while in use. This may sound like a small advancement, but it could be a big deal in a nascent industry that is trying bring VR to thousands of malls and movie theaters without having to hire expensive specialists for every single location. “High school students will be able to run this,” said Niles.

Correction 12:01pm: A previous version of this story misstated the size of spaces OtiTrack’s solution is capable of tracking.

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