You can actually touch Minecraft blocks in VR thanks to Microsoft Research

The mixed reality version of Minecraft demoed on the HoloLens

Virtual reality is often viewed as the next step in experiences enabled by technology and, in general, it’s deemed to have almost countless applications and unlimited potential. The only problem with VR is the fact that it’s digital – you can’t actually touch or realistically interact with the objects in the world you see in front of your eyes. And that’s not only disappointing for gamers (or adult entertainment enthusiasts, for that matter) it’s an actual problem that limits the technology’s immersion and usefulness. But researchers at Microsoft have found one way to get around the problem and they demoed it with Minecraft.

Virtual reality works because your eyes are easily tricked – fill your field of vision with something in 3D and your brain thinks that’s the new reality you’re living in. But your other senses are harder to bypass, especially when all you have are two LCD screens stuck to your face. So how did Microsoft solve this problem and make virtual reality a bit more real? In the most convoluted, albeit ingenious, way possible of course.

Researchers set up a space where a user, his hands, and his body are constantly being tracked, not just by the Oculus Rift used in the demo but also by a ceiling-mounted Xbox Kinect v2. Using this complex rig, and a small cardboard cube, the user was able to experience actually building a castle in Minecraft, using blocks that felt real. While many of us would call that playing with Legos, in this case, the user was entirely immersed in the digital world he saw.

The neat thing about the whole experience is how the user felt every block as he touched it, but in reality he was touching the same block over and over again and moving it around the table. The technology relied on tricking his brain and eyes once again, with the user’s field of view being subtly modified by the algorithm to fool him into perceiving the world in different shapes.

As you can see in the video above, this is possibly the most convoluted way of making Minecraft a tiny bit more real, and comes with severe limitations. That being said, tech like this represents some of the first baby steps on the path of being unknowingly plugged into the matrix developing truly realistic virtual and mixed reality scenarios.

Source: Microsoft Research

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