That One Weird Trick MIT Has to Make VR Go Wireless

Bringing the virtual closer to reality.


One of the big blocks to a fully immersive virtual reality experience with PSVR, Oculus, or Vive is that they have to be tethered by cables to work. As impressive and breathtaking as today's VR games and experiences can be, there's always a copper umbilical cord firmly connecting you to real life.

MIT is working on a solution that will untether your VR experience and finally let you walk around virtual worlds unimpeded by wires. MIT's prototype, called MoVR, isn't revolutionary in principal. In fact, it uses technology that has been known about for quite some time; this is just one of the few instances that technology can actually be utilized.

MoVR uses mm-wave technology, which has a very fast transmission speed, and a huge amount of bandwidth. This means that the multiple Gbps that needs to be relayed between your VR headset and your computer via wires can be replaced by MoVR's mm-wave wireless set-up. The catch with mm-wave tech is that it has a very narrow wavelength, which means that objects that wouldn't impede your wi-fi or cellular signals can stop mm waves in their tracks. Even high humidity levels can obstruct a mm-wave signal.

It's these drawbacks that have kept mm-wave from being adopted for any wide-spread consumer products. However, with VR, these issues become less glaring. Wired VR already requires a relatively clear area near your computer, so that takes care of range and blockage. The only problem you have then is your body blocking the signal, which is where the second task for the MoVR comes into play.

In addition to feeding your VR headset the multiple Gbps of data in real-time, it also detects blockages that might impede the flow of that data. The MoVR box knows where you PC and VR headset are in relation to the mm-wave transmitter at all times. If it detects that a blockage is occurring, it can use a mirror system to wave the beam clean of any blockage in microseconds.

This technology isn't something that has to be Kickstarted, or that is years down the road either. The prototype MoVR is fully functional and working at full speed with the HTC Vive, no cord at all. The prototype is currently the size of one or two smartphones, so it's still a bit large for full production. However, the team is working on making the unit smaller and flatter, as well as reducing power consumption so that the headset can last on a battery longer.

With this much progress made already, expect to see MoVR, and solutions like it coming as add-ons to current VR platforms. Who knows, by the time the next generation of VR devices is announced this might be a standard feature.

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