Legs are the hardest part of you to put in the metaverse

no legs horizon worlds
Image source: Meta Platforms

ITEM: One of the more common snarky comments about Meta Platforms’ Horizon Worlds meta verse is: why no legs? The answer turns out to be both simple and surprising: legs are hard to replicate, and users may not want them anyway.

When Facebook became Meta, the accompanying promo video showed Mark Zuckerberg talking to his metaverse avatar, which had four functional limbs. However, the avatars in Horizon Worlds resemble cartoon handpuppets that float around. Which may be cool, but it hardly supports the narrative that the metaverse will be a digital version of the real world.

The problem, according to this post from CNN Business, is that putting workable legs on VR avatars that move the same way the user moves requires the VR kit to track your real-world legs – a process that Andrew Bosworth, Meta’s VP of Reality Labs and incoming CTO, describes as “super hard and basically not workable just from a physics standpoint with existing headsets”.

VR headsets in general can track your upper body, including your hands, but they’re not set up to track your leg movements. Sticking more sensors onto the VR helmet might help, but that’s harder than it sounds, VR and AR consultant Avi Bar-Zeev told CNN Business:

Bodies come in so many shapes and sizes, and they change over time. For many of us, that means those cameras wouldn’t have a great view of our legs and feet, making it hard to capture enough hints about your motion to infer what your legs should be doing in VR. Among other obstacles, if you were to tilt or turn your head, Bar-Zeev pointed out, a ground-facing camera in a headset would lose sight of the limbs it’s attempting to track.

“That’s not a very reliable way to get people’s legs, and it’s a pretty bad angle to capture the legs from,” he said.

Another option is separate trackers to strap onto your legs, which HTC’s Vive offers. But they cost almost $130 a pop and only work with a tethered helmet and a base station.

A few apps like VRChat try to make up for it with software that simulates lower-body motions, but most users agree it looks either comical or just weird. Timoni West, vice president of augmented and virtual reality at game-development platform Unity, says predictive AI could help make animated VR legs work, but it requires a huge amount of data on how people walk, and still wouldn’t be unique to that particular user.

(That matters in the sense that the way each person walks is unique enough that there is such a thing as ‘gait recognition’ software to identify people.)

Ironically, the other issue is to what extent users even want virtual legs in the first place, West adds:

“The problem is the closer it gets to real, the more it starts to bug people that it isn’t real,” West said.

Full story here.

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