Gizmos & Gadgets: Getting Closer to the Holodeck with a Disney “Holobench”

August 1, 2017 – Star Trek introduced science fiction fans to the idea of a holodeck where crewmembers could immerse themselves into a world of virtual reality. The holodeck is still well off in the future but with haptic devices, speakers, computers, and camera systems, the wizards at Disney Research create a mixed reality, immersive experience letting one or more people interact with computer-generated characters without having to wear a headset. Called the Magic Bench, it immerses participants into a 3D environment that feels real. You interact with three-dimensional animated characters. The physical environment can be group shared unlike current virtual and augmented reality technology. All a user has to do is walk up, sit down and interact. You see, hear and feel the animations. You even converse.

How does the Magic Bench work?

The bench is critical to the entire application. It serves as the controller. Untile at least one person sits on it, the mixed reality experience isn’t triggered. with its human participants gets projected on to a 3D video display using the camera system built into Microsoft Kinect. The bench, which is equipped with haptic sensors and speakers creates additional sensory output while eliminating the challenges of having to create a much larger environment for interaction (sorry, no holodeck-sized set possible at this time). The participants in front of the screen see themselves interacting with the animated characters and even feel and converse with them as if they were on screen.



During operation, human participants get projected on to a mixed 2D-3D display. Magic Bench works with Microsoft Kinect. It also incorporates haptic sensors and speakers to create additional sensory output. The participants on the bench see themselves interacting with the animated characters and even feel and converse with them as if they were on screen as well as physically present. The bench platform constrains the application to make it work. Disney hasn’t yet come up with a much larger environment in which mixed reality interactions can occur. So sorry, no holodeck-sized set is possible at this time. The bench as the system target makes it easy to identify the users, the direction they are looking, and their current activities and interactions. It also creates a perfect stage between a foreground and background to create realistic depth.

Watch the YouTube video to learn more.


                                   Photo credit: Disney Research

Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery.