To provide the illusion of being within cyberspace, the system should provide a stereoscopic image that tracks head position. A system that does this can be built by using two small video monitors mounted on a helmet the user wears. Affixed to the helmet is a head-tracking device, such as the Polhemus Navigator (made by a subsidiary of McDonnell Douglas) which provides eighth inch position and quarter-degree angular accuracy without attached wires.
The video displays can be fabricated from components salvaged from LCD pocket televisions, or camcorder viewfinders can be used as-is. (The current NASA design uses custom displays and optics to achieve a wide field of view, but their first prototype used commercial LCD displays). Each monitor is attached to a separate graphics controller which renders the view of the three dimensional model of the world from that eye's viewpoint, updating the display as the head translates and rotates. Cyberspace experimenters stress that quickly updating the display as the viewpoint changes is essential both to maintain the illusion of being in a simulated world and to avoid vertigo. NASA has found that a fast wireframe display is preferable to shaded imagery that lags head movement.
One could configure an initial experimental cyberspace system using, for example, two Amiga 500 home computers as rendering engines, fed a three dimensional model created with AutoCAD or AutoSolid by a control computer (either a Compaq 386 or a Sun would work well) which monitors head position and sends viewpoint updates to the rendering engines.
For user interaction with the cyberspace environment, one could use the VPL glove which, with available software, allows recognition of commands from hand gestures and, with a Polhemus navigator attached to the glove, pointing and grasping of objects in cyberspace. Other input devices such as joysticks and foot pedals could also be explored. The entire hardware complement needed for this initial cyberspace exploration and demonstration system would cost less than $15,000 (not counting the control computer, which would not be dedicated to the system in any case) and could easily be transported and set up wherever required.
This system is so simple and transportable that I call it ``cyberspace in a briefcase''. It would serve as an initial prototype to demonstrate the value of cyberspace environments, and introduce our user, developer, hardware manufacturer, and analyst communities to the potential of our work in the area. Our goal in assembling an initial cyberspace system and demonstrating its potential would be to spur the graphics hardware manufacturers who work closely with Autodesk into cooperating with us to specify, develop, and market commercial cyberspace hardware to work in conjunction with cyberspace software developed by Autodesk. Manufacturers of high-performance graphics peripherals are often disappointed that Autodesk does not push their products to the limit. Improving the realism of cyberspace systems can use all of the capacity of the next several generations of graphics hardware (while being useful even with currently affordable products).
Editor: John Walker