The introduction of the iPhone 4 saw the addition of yet another amazing sensor known as the ‘gyroscope’, which became an instant success, just as the addition of the ‘accelerometer’ to the first iPhone was a significant milestone. The question is, why do we need a gyroscope? What are its implications for virtual reality? Let’s find out.
Gyroscope – Motion Against Gravity
A gyroscope is defined as a device which uses the earth’s gravity to help determine orientation. It is termed as gyro-sensors when it comes to smartphones. They measure the rate of rotation around the device’s x, y and z axes.
For example, we usually view a picture on our smartphone vertically, but when we tap on the rotate button, what do we see? The image rotates to a horizontal orientation. Similarly, while playing a game, we tap our fingers on the screen to aim and direct a player to move forward/backward, left/right. This phenomenon is the result of the gyro sensors embedded in our smartphones, which are constantly sending information to the display driver to change the orientation of the phone from portrait to landscape, or allow player movement in multi-directions.
Six Degrees Of Freedom
The amalgamation of the gyroscope, the accelerator, and the magnetometer have further enriched the viewing experiences from within a virtual environment. All these sensors come together to achieve the ultimate goal of the best viewing experience, six degrees of freedom, or 6DOF. That is, the freedom of movement experienced by a user in 3D space. 6DOF is commonly represented by 3 translations – up/down, right/left, forward/backward, and 3 rotations – pitch, yaw, and roll.
The freedom of movement that can be achieved in 3D space is important for virtual reality, enabling greater ease in tracking the movement of users and levels of interactivity within the environment. Consider a group of students exploring a virtual tour of the Taj Mahal. With the help of a controller, students can navigate the entire premise by moving forward and backward. Additionally, they can also rotate or move their heads left and right to gain a panoramic experience of the monument.
It is impossible to think about virtual reality without mentioning the gyroscope because it has ushered in a new wave of engagement and movement within a virtual world. This connection between the device (VR headset) and the effect (gyro) has created immense opportunities for developers to deliver interactive and meaningful experiences to VR enthusiasts, novitiates, and students alike.