Google has started to experiment with light field technology with the hope of making virtual reality (VR) more life-like. As while VR is a field that has grown massively of late, and one that is now capable of offering some impressively immersive experiences, to the trained eye – literally – there are some areas where the experience remains an unnatural one. Light is a good example here as while creating a world that replicates the real world is one thing, taking account of the way light has a tendency to bounce and reflect off everything – and the way the eye interprets that bouncing – is a lot harder to replicate in an authentic fashion in VR. Though, if it can be, it has the potential to add further depth elements to a constructed world, and thereby making immersive experiences, even more closer to the real thing.
The light field is nothing new, as it has been a staple of science for years, though the "light fields" Google is specifically referring to is the use of algorithms to cleverly capture, stitch, and render, images to account for a scene's light field. In addition to the computational tech there are also cameras available (light-field cameras) which help in the process of capturing light fields – usually for research purposes. Although as part of its own research, Google put together a makeshift light-field camera by modifying a GoPro Odyssey Jump camera. The results of which have now afforded Google the ability to sample light rays for use with VR headsets.
One of the major technical hurdles for light fields in relation to VR, is not just the capturing of how light reflects in a single image, but how those light reflections change and move within a 3D environment when a person moves, which is why the more advanced camera rigs are needed. To further highlight this distinction, Google has released a new VR app called "Welcome to Light Fields." With this being a VR app it is only compatible with select headsets, namely the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets. The app is available to download through Steam VR and for those who do not have a compatible headset to hand, Google has released the still images shown below which look to provide some indication of how the capturing of light can add an additional level of realism.