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Full Dive Virtual Reality – Coming Soon to a Brain Near You

Immersive virtual reality has barely cleared the launch pad, but a new technology promises to redefine the VR experience. It’s called full dive virtual reality (FDVR) and it is straight out of science fiction — literally. Full dive virtual reality technology pushes VR beyond immersive headsets and makes the user one with the machine through the use of a Brain Computer Interface, or BCI. You read that right. The age of the cyborg is upon us… almost.

Yes, advances are being made across a wide range of technologies that will allow users to control computers with mere thought, and to receive data from the computer directly into the brain. A true full immersion virtual reality experience is the new holy grail. But is full dive virtual reality possible now, or shall we check back in a few decades? More to the point for gamers, if full dive virtual reality is soon to transition from science fiction to the inferior world known as reality, when will full dive virtual reality gaming become more than a distance dream?

Before we explore those questions, let’s step back into sci-fi and remind ourselves exactly what we hope FDVR will do for us.

Origins of Full Dive Virtual Reality

The term originated from a Japanese light novel anime series, Sword Art Online, written by Reki Kawahara in 2009. In the series, a Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (VRMMORPG) called Sword Art Online, or SAO, is released in the year 2022. 10,000 players don their “NerveGear” BMI helmets and begin to play.

Players soon realize that the game developer has locked them into the game and that any attempt to logout or end the game will be fatal to their real-life bodies. The only way to exit the game, and to survive, is to successfully reach the 100th floor of the castle and defeat the final foe.

Not exactly the pitch you want to give investors, to be sure, but there are some good things there we can take away. First, the story popularized the concept of VRMMORPG. Gamers who weren’t thinking of engaging untold minions in gameplay suddenly started dreaming. Second, the concept of a helmet creating a non-invasive neural interface between man and machine whetted the appetite for those wanting a more seamless way to interact with computers. Not that the idea of BMIs was new, but seeing the concept demonstrated in such a rich storyline made the idea all the more tempting.

Examples of Full Dive Virtual Reality in Use

Back in the real world, real and exciting things are happening. Full dive virtual reality technology is rapidly stepping off the pages of science fiction and into the lab.

Humble Beginnings

Recent advances in technology can sometimes be appreciated more when contrasted with earlier successes and failures.

In 2013, Harvard University broke ground for FDVR advances by conducting a human- brain-to-mouse-brain experiment. In this experiment, researchers used an electroencephalogram (EEG) brain-brain-interface (BBI) to detect the thought patterns of a researcher. By focusing his thoughts, the researcher was able to control the movement of a rat’s tail. Not exactly the kind of action most serious gamers are looking for, but it marked an important turning point in BBI technology. For the first time, two brains communicated directly through a hardware interface.

There were two reasons why this experiment was noteworthy. Not only did it demonstrate that human thought could be correctly interpreted by computer and used to control a rat’s brain, but the experiment was non-invasive for both the researcher and the rat. While researchers around the world have been able to control rats’ brains through the use of implanted electrodes, this rat suffered no such indignity. Non-surgical focused ultrasound (FUS) was used to impart the control signals to the rat’s brain, a technology we will elaborate on shortly.

The Paralyzed Walk

Fast-forward to 2015. Researchers at the University of California at Irvine also used an  electroencephalogram machine to detect human thought. This time, however, those thoughts did not make it possible to control a rat’s tail, but to help a paraplegic man walk for the first time in five years. The man, who had suffered a spinal cord injury, walked nearly four meters with the assistance of the EEG device and advanced software.

The study involved placing electrodes on the patient’s head and on his legs. By detecting and interpreting signals from the man’s brain and sending those signals to his legs, the system bypassed the damaged spinal cord and allowed him to once again control the movement of his legs.

The experiment required the patient to undergo 19 weeks of training prior to taking his first step, but the encouraging results proved the concept was valid.

These two experiments may not be encouraging to those who had hoped for more, but consider this. Within two years, we have seen the technology advance from wiggling a rats tail to allowing a paralyzed person to actually walk across the floor. Such progress should be exciting, indeed, for anyone interested in full dive virtual reality development.

Technologies involved in Full Dive Virtual Reality

Full dive is a term that has been used by some game developers to imply that their games provide a more-immersive VR experience. By using advanced full-body motion sensors and high definition spacial audio, along with the VR headset, players do enjoy more immersive gameplay than ever before. But this is not true full dive.

Full dive, in the truest sense, goes beyond external viewers and sensors for user interaction and provides direct interaction between the user’s brain and the computer. Full dive is not so much full body immersion as it is full mind immersion.

Physical connections to the brain are not necessarily required, but there must be interpretation of the user’s thoughts by the computer, and — more importantly — the computer must be able to send sensory data directly into the user’s central nervous system. Full dive is, essentially, the ultimate goal of brain-to-computer interface research.

BCIs have been around, in various experimental stages, for years. What makes FDVR a new concept is that it has the added component of virtual reality. Regardless of whatever advancements in BCIs may have been made until now, VR is a game changer (no pun intended).

Within the scope of what full dive is, or can become, is the question of just how much interaction between user and machine is possible. Two levels of interaction are theoretically achievable: Mobile and Immobile.

Mobile and Immobile Full Dive

Mobile full dive, as the name suggests, involves the user physically moving his or her body with their movements being detected by external sensors, not unlike current VR technology. For lack of refined methods of detecting and interpreting thoughts, physical action provides the most reliable means of providing data to the computer. In order for the experience to be FDVR, the sensory data returned by the computer must be fed directly into the user’s brain or central nervous system; otherwise, we just have a conventional VR experience.

Immobile full dive, on the other hand, means just what it says: the user is immobile and the FD experience is entirely cerebral. No physical movement is necessary, as the computer can translate the user’s thoughts with adequate precision to control the program. While conventional VR gear could still be used — and probably will be for the foreseeable future, full dive will ultimately involve bypassing the user’s five senses by sending sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations directly into the brain.

In theory, a full full-dive experience would disable the user’s external sensory awareness, replacing it with virtual awareness for the duration of the HDVR session. Likewise, the user would have no need to move their body, as their thoughts would control their virtual bodies within VR space. There is, admittedly, a creep factor to being so totally immersed that one’s own physical body becomes obsolete. Some might even question whether we really want to go there. But, of course, we will.

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Government Help

Studies such as the Harvard experiment show exciting progress, there must be greater even advances in order for FD to become a reality. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) may provide a key component.

DARPA plans to spend $60 million (USD) over the next four years to develop a high-resolution, wide-bandwidth intracranial electrode array for recording and stimulating brain activity. The DARPA Stentrode (stent and electrode) has been successfully tested in sheep and is injected into a blood vessel where it records and stimulates neural activity. Experiments with humans began in 2017.

The minimally invasive device may be the closest thing we have, yet, to a brain modem. And while the ultimate goal is to enjoy a full dive experience without the need for implants of any sort, the lessons learned by the Stentrode will help us to get there.

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

One secret to advancing any technology is to find what works and keep doing it. As we discussed, EEG systems were successful in the 2013 rat-tail experiment, and they were successful in the 2015 University of California at Irvine experiment where a paraplegic walked. As promising as the DARPA device may be, the non-invasive EEG holds, perhaps, greater promise for developers wishing to advance full dive technology.

EEG has already moved from the lab to commercial applications. One company, Emotive, has penetrated the market with 5-channel and 14-channel “neuroheadsets” and advanced EEG software. Emotive is developing applications for its products in the fields of “academic research, advertising and media, education and training, mobility, defense, communication, automotive and IoT (Internet of Things) development.”

Clearly, EEG is an excellent foundation upon which to advance full drive technology.

Focused Ultrasound (FUS)

In terms of brain interfaces, focused ultrasound is a means of stimulating targeted regions of the brain by bombarding them with ultrasonic energy of a particular frequency and pressure level. In the case of the rat tail experiment, the motor cortex of the rat’s brain was stimulated with 350 KHz from a transducer placed on the rat’s head.

While FUS is primarily a therapeutic tool used by healthcare professionals for treating certain health conditions, Harvard’s out-of-the-box thinking adapted it for their brain interface. This is exactly the kind of creativity that will lead innovators to push full dive closer to reality.

Full Dive Virtual Reality in Gaming

In the 2016 edition of this article, we stated, “To date, there are no TRUE full dive games…”  And to be honest, no commercial-grade FD game was even on the horizon, nor the headset to control such a game.

That has all changed.

At SIGGRAPH 2017 in Los Angeles, Neurable debued the VR game Awakening. The game storyline goes like this: you are a child who has telekinetic powers and you are being held prisoner in a government lab. Robot prison guards are present prevent you from escaping your cell. The object of the game is to use your telekinetic abilities to select objects in the lab and to hurl them at the robot guards, knocking them out of commission. Defeat enough guards and you are free to escape.

Oh, yeah. And you control the game with your thoughts.

By simply focusing on whatever object you wish to weaponize, you cause that object to be thrown at the guards. The debut version used a modified HTC Vive headset. An array of sensors detect brainwave activity on the surface of the player’s scalp

If battling foes using only the power of your mind is on your bucket list, you might not have long to wait. Neurable is aggressively working with content developers and VR partners to bring their technology to market.

But wait… it gets even better.

Neurable is working on an SDK for Unity, so developers can build their own mind-controlled games. How cool is that?

AppReal-VR: Your Full Dive Virtual Reality Development Partner

Full dive virtual reality development isn’t all fun and games. Success requires a solid foundation in the very latest virtual reality technology, and the ability to transform complex theories into workable solutions. Pioneers in full dive development must go beyond adopting the latest technology; they must be able to do real science.

AppReal is a virtual reality development company specializing in programming, VR production, mobile app development, and custom development of virtual reality solutions. We have the experience and technology needed to bring clarity and direction to your FDVR vision. Together, we can transform your ideas into reality. Why not call us today to arrange a free consultation?

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54 responses to “Full Dive Virtual Reality – Coming Soon to a Brain Near You”

  1. Kollskeg says:

    To any and all of you VR-Lovers, (BTW I am one too :D)
    I think you are all right in just about everyway you have mentioned for both good and bad. VRMMORPGS are going to be a thing one day, I think those here recognize that, or at least some of you do. I believe that when these games come out, if they are a true FD, (or full dive, as mentioned in the article) then perhaps someday we will cross swords on a virtual battlefield and compete to see who is strongest. Personally I have found myself finding the lack of a challenge in day to day life rather… lets say difficult. One of the things this game could bring is something as simple as a chance to grow, to challenge yourself in a safe environment, to push yourself father than before to achieve your dreams whatever they may be. However just like in life and on
    every coin or dollar bill in your pocket there is another side to this potential virtual world. It could be used for nefarious ends instead of spreading good clean online fun.

    However just the simple chance, to challenge yourself against; a foe, a monster, your friends, your enemies, or perhaps even yourself. This single chance drives me forward to see the dawn of this insipient virtual world. Perhaps one day we will be telling our future children to dream big and reach for the stars, regardless if they are real or virtual.
    So to those that are waiting like me, maybe just maybe, each time I rewatch SAO we get one step closer towards our dreams and those stars that are just barely out of reach.

    To everyone that reads this, I hope to cross swords with you one day, on a distant virtual battlefield or perhaps party up and work together. I guess it all depends on the game doesn’t it, hahaah?
    Anyways to all those fanatics out there, keep an eye out for me if this dream becomes a reality!

    For some, a dream is as close as you can get to living in reality
    For others, reality is simply a place for those dreamers to wait for the next one.

    -Kollskeg

  2. Kawika says:

    Where can i get updates on fd or the companies that produce the information?

  3. Carson says:

    Where might I find any updates on full dive or fd companies?

  4. Thanks for your amazing response on the article – it’s just been updated.

  5. Mr Kevin R Miller says:

    Is there any wat to get in on this on the technical side anyone know who to contact to work full dive v.r development ??

  6. David Hendry says:

    Sword Art Online wasn’t technically the first to suggest it. There have been other anime and/or movies that have suggested such things. The theory behind brain-to-computer interfaces were in technological discussions for almost as long as the theory of Quantum Computing.

    But the biggest issue with regards to this is the speed by which technology is released. Check out your smartphones, smart watches, smart TVs, smart homes, driverless cars, delivery drones, automatic hoovers, etc. etc. All bits of technology… All ultimately flawed because they are so sensitive they break with just a tiny bit of recklessness. But the great thing about those is, you can always get out and be absolutely fine.
    The subject of Full Dive Virtual Reality talks about direct interface with the brain (primarily via non-intrusive methods but that is still in theory). This is an EXTREMELY dangerous task, and not something we should easily pop into the realms of mobile tech. If something goes wrong in there… You can’t just call for technical support. If something short-circuits on you, the potential for instant death and/or vegetation is pretty high. And what with everyone taking shortcuts to try and get it here FASTER… It’s really not something I’m terribly comfortable with as it stands…

    NOW… If they were to stop and actually take their time… Start from scratch, all the building blocks of a computer, and address as many issues as possible with back-door exit functions that allow any semblance of danger to be re-routed to an ejection system, then we can be certain that whether it be a new update or a bonk on the noggin, we’re going to be able to evacuate without the risk of our sensory input/output desynchronizing. Next we have to worry about the whole “publicity stunt” and “hacking potential”… Since we’d be working entirely with technology we’re fully aware of, it only makes sense that people would be working to break it as easy as possible… All the more reason to work from scratch and develop a new OS on a new Programming Language (if possible).

    I fear for what this could bring, because there are so many amazing applications we could come to enjoy. So much escapism we can sink into when we get home from a dreadful day at work. Another reason to work twice as hard, so that we can leave twice as early, and return to the fantasy world where we can finally find release from the stresses of modern-day life…

    But if all forms of social media, internet bullying, and other forms of disgraceful behaviour is incorporated into this system, I doubt it’ll be a fun experience whatsoever. Maybe a unique and wonderful experience… But not fun.

    So, I have my reservations regarding the technology, and hope they take a long time to release it. I hope they will put a lot of focused effort into making the final product something truly worthy of praise and attention, rather than another “in the right hands, it’s amazing. In the wrong hands, it’s deadly” piece of technology.

    Sorry to be a negative nancy (what did Nancy ever do to earn that title =[ …) but I just wish to address all negativity so that we can be positive about the final results… Being a sourpuss will be all the more worth it when we can all just lay on the grass on a warm summer’s day and look up at the sky, knowing that we’re technically in a flat in a major city… But for now, we’re free and loving life.

    • T3AZE says:

      It is very funny you posted this on my special day. I wont lie I’ve been a gamer for 32yrs, love SAO, the idea of FDVR, have a 2yr in electronics/robotics, self study human psychology,neuroscience, and medicine due to my medical conditions, but i have been blessed with a great mind!! I had the same thoughts prior to reading your post, It is an in escapeable scientific fact that whatever our brain interperts as real even if it is artificial could have an instant effect on our physical body depending on what that data is, so the danger is an absolute truth. Is there enough tech available to create a fullproof fail safe? Dampening data returned to the user, example ( you get your head sliced with a sword while in FD but the system determines its a fatal blow so data returned to the users brain would be dampened to the equivalent of lets say the pain of a sprained ankle in real life) thats still gonna hurt your head or more precise your brain will make it feel that way OUCH, the way our brains are hardwired we would still percieve it as not being real defeating the whole virtual reality concept. The data needed for such calculations seems infinite, MRI,EEG,NCS of little things like moving a finger,walking,problem solving,complex thought process (like a fight for your life ) ect… It would need to be a perfect union with all five of our senses and a computer. Can we turn off pain receptor data return to the user’s body and still trick the virtual entity to believe it is real? It would be a technology epedemic if it ever became affordable, people would hack,steal,cheat,break the whole thing ( human nature can be unfortunate ) but there is no light without dark. A lot of great things could be done with FDVR in the medical field, training, teaching….BUT a lot of bad could happen too! Despite all that if I can use my knowledge to help achieve TrueFDVR I still would, more human nature just to see if we can do it. When we do achieve it. You and I can meet on a futuristic battlefield for a Sword duel with fancy flashy skills we could never do in reality! First I would need to do a Kamehameha then I’d know I was living my dream, a Mystical World where my only limit is my imagination. Alas reality has its hard truths. Until then STARBURST STREAM

  7. Jake says:

    Is anybody independently working on a full dive vr headset or know anyone working on such, besides the big names out there?

  8. A fellow human says:

    Maybe I should start saving now… I don’t earn money fast lol. But it really is a great idea to send and receive signals to the brain! I like how I understood all of this and I’m still actually a child 😛

  9. Tee says:

    I would love to be a test patient to test out and see what could be done to make this better because for years I been dreaming to be in a game being able to move and fight and making new friends. This dream is so close to becoming reality and it make me so happy we have great people in our world and we must all appreciate how much and how hard these people are working to create this.

  10. Rex says:

    When (not if) full dive comes about it will be due to necessity, not gaming. That’s not to say that there won’t be deep dive games like SAO, but imagine the benefits it would have for the medical industries. The next advancement will be cybernetics (in many ways the two go hand in hand). You wouldn’t need the headset or even an external computer, the combination of your brain and cybernetic implants would act as the computer. In fact I believe that the deep dive barrier will be broken through advancements in cybernetics. I could see a real life version of the cybernetics from Ghost in the Shell (Stand Alone Complex, not the movies) within the next ten years. Lets say you join the military and lose an arm or leg, in this case you could get an extremely realistic prosthetic and very possibly continue to serve if you so choose. What I’m getting at is watch medical and prosthetic tech, as well as vr. it’s only a matter of time before what we thought was impossible twenty years ago becomes truly possible. Then watch the gaming boom.

  11. Saige says:

    I really don’t care if you guys recreate SAO just let us do a full body dive already!!!!!! I am crying here!!!

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