2.2 Software

From a developer's standpoint, it would be ideal to program the VR system by providing high-level descriptions and having the software determine automatically all of the low-level details. In a perfect world, there would be a VR engine, which serves a purpose similar to the game engines available today for creating video games. If the developer follows patterns that many before her have implemented already, then many complicated details can be avoided by simply calling functions from a well-designed software library. However, if the developer wants to try something original, then she would have to design the functions from scratch. This requires a deeper understanding of the VR fundamentals, while also being familiar with lower-level system operations.

Unfortunately, we are currently a long way from having fully functional, general-purpose VR engines. As applications of VR broaden, specialized VR engines are also likely to emerge. For example, one might be targeted for immersive cinematography while another is geared toward engineering design. Which components will become more like part of a VR ``operating system'' and which will become higher level ``engine'' components? Given the current situation, developers will likely be implementing much of the functionality of their VR systems from scratch. This may involve utilizing a software development kit (SDK) for particular headsets that handles the lowest level operations, such as device drivers, head tracking, and display output. Alternatively, they might find themselves using a game engine that has been recently adapted for VR, even though it was fundamentally designed for video games on a screen. This can avoid substantial effort at first, but then may be cumbersome when someone wants to implement ideas that are not part of standard video games.

Figure 2.13: The Virtual World Generator (VWG) maintains another world, which could be synthetic, real, or some combination. From a computational perspective, the inputs are received from the user and his surroundings, and appropriate views of the world are rendered to displays.

What software components are needed to produce a VR experience? Figure 2.13 presents a high-level view that highlights the central role of the Virtual World Generator (VWG). The VWG receives inputs from low-level systems that indicate what the user is doing in the real world. A head tracker provides timely estimates of the user's head position and orientation. Keyboard, mouse, and game controller events arrive in a queue that are ready to be processed. The key role of the VWG is to maintain enough of an internal ``reality'' so that renderers can extract the information they need to calculate outputs for their displays.

Steven M LaValle 2020-01-06