In the beginning, there was Humphrey—a mechatronic device that worked in conjunction with a pair of data glasses to simulate flight in a 3-D environment.
This installation in the Ars Electronica Center has been a smash hit with visitors ever since the opening of the museum, which has replaced almost all of the “exhibits” on display there at least once over the past eight years. And, indeed, Humphrey will remain aloft in Ars Electronica’s airspace, but his new design will greatly enhance and intensify the experience of flight. Continual improvements in processing capabilities make it possible to generate simulations that get closer and closer to perfection. Virtual reality systems use stereoscopic imagery to produce the illusion of a real, three-dimensional environment.
By means of force feedback devices, even physical forces can be mechanically simulated in these virtual worlds. As the outcome of R&D work in which Ars Electronica Futurelab engineers utilized an empirical design process, Humphrey has mutated into the prototype of an apparatus that uses a combination of virtual reality and force feedback technologies to impart a feeling of weightlessness that is as realistic as possible and of the centrifugal force generated by flying. An aspect that makes a key contribution to this is the innovative mode of navigation, which enables the user to steer through an artificial environment by means of intuitive arm movements.
The essential elements are a data helmet, specially reinforced overalls resembling a pilot’s jumpsuit, and the equipment responsible for producing the force simulation. In designing the pneumatic components, engineers also took the factor of visual impact into consideration since one of their prime objectives was to enable users and observers alike to understand how the apparatus functions. The contracting muscles that produce flight also give viewers a direct impression of the forces at work upon the user. For the process of immersion—that is, for the user to completely get into a virtual world— the most important component is the data helmet that stereographically visualizes an environment consisting of computer-generated data. In keeping with the state of the art, the helmet was designed to be as light as possible and reduced to its functional elements. Leading edge technology also went into the force-feedback-generated “physics” at work in these immersive worlds, as well as the new 3-D environments that will premier at the opening of the 2003 Ars Electronica Festival.
Fa. Form² - Mario Zepetzauer, Degen Stefan
Special thanks to:
Thomas Kienzl, Wöber Anton, Flugschule “Wings”, Dietmar Offenhuber, Martin Sturm, Stefan Stipek, Stefan Steiner, Gerold Hofstadler, Rudolf Hanl, Thomas Teibler, D.O.R.I.S. – Thomas Ebert, Kurt Pfleger; Gerhard Riegler, Franz Nagelreiter.