Virtual reality is completely transportive. Someone can be standing right next to you, and you don’t see or hear them, because you’re busy painting in soundwaves. And while that makes simulations immersive, it also makes them isolating. It’s straight up weird to be the only dude in a room wearing a VR headset, the one person who cannot see anyone else.
But Google’s VR division has developed an enticing solution. Inside its popular 3D sketching app Tiltbrush, it's experimenting with a "portal brush." Instead of drawing something in the air, it wipes away the virtual world, revealing the real world behind it.
Technically, the demo is using the HTC Vive’s video camera on the front to create the effect. These video passthroughs are common in virtual reality already, as a way to hop from the screen to a feed of what’s actually in front of you. The problem is, from experience, they don’t work that well. That passthrough is always a few annoying buttons away. And frankly, it’s jarring to toggle between two realities, so the feature is better on paper than in practice.
Google’s solution looks great for two reasons. First, it's using a gesture that we all know from real life. I imagine the portal brush feels like wiping away the fog on a steamy mirror, so it just makes sense at a fundamental UX level. Secondly, it creates a window into the regular world, without pulling you from the virtual one. That’s not just neat, that’s a way to be in two spaces at once, almost like multitasking realities. And indeed, one can imagine how useful it could be to be working on something in VR and call over to a colleague to chat about it—just like you could do today if you were working on a spreadsheet on your laptop.
There’s no word on if and when the portal will come to Tiltbrush—nor when the other new UX experiments it announced today, like multiplayer drawing and articulating objects, might come to the app. But given that Google is probably revealing its Daydream virtual reality headset at an event on October 4, who knows—maybe we’ll see some of these new features sooner rather than later.
[All Images: via Google]