Enhancing the Office with a Virtual Desk

CITEC researchers developing software for virtual reality glasses

Enhancing the home office desk with virtual reality glasses: researchers at the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) are working to make this a reality. Partnering with the software development company Ceyoniq Technology GmbH in Bielefeld, the researchers have developed a system that allows digital documents to be viewed and organized in a digital environment. For this new software, the researchers used a developer version of the Oculus Rift virtual reality glasses. A version of these glasses made especially for individual users will be available in Germany at the end of March.

When viewing documents on a computer screen, they are normally depicted as a document tree, which shows how the text files, photos, or videos are organized. Files can be opened or moved. “With our new virtual system, however, we make data ‘touchable,’ allowing it to be organized in space,” explains Dr. Thies Pfeiffer. The computer scientist is the technical leader of the Virtual Reality Lab, which is part of the Central Labs in the CITEC Building.

When wearing the virtual reality glasses, users see a virtually generated world and have the impression of actually being in that environment. The CITEC researchers have expanded upon one key functionality: in their system, users can also use their hands to ‘touch’ virtual objects. “Part of the system is a virtual desk, where users can sort their files,” explains Thies Pfeiffer. To do this, the user reaches for her file of choice, such as a video, and places it on top of the desk. The user can start the video by touching it with her virtual hand, and the file will then be played a virtual computer screen. “The user can thus intuitively organize files with gestures and movements,” says Thies Pfeiffer. The desk and office where this takes place are based on the user’s real workplace, which helps create the impression for the user of actually being in a familiar environment. “This also helps the user easily orient herself in the virtual environment.” Space in the virtual world is unlimited: the desk, for instance, can be enlarged, and the screen can be made larger as desired. #

The results of this research were presented at Ceyoniq’s showroom in Bielefeld, where it can be tested as an alternative to a traditional desktop computer using the ‘nscale’ document management service.

In cooperation with Ceyoniq, Thies Pfeiffer and his colleagues also programmed virtual bookshelves that store and display documents. Each shelf holds documents relating to a specific subject area. This allows items from a databank to be depicted, for example, personnel files in which salary level, education, and weekly work times are listed. “If the HR manager wants to get a quick overview of the staff, he can just put on the virtual reality glasses and look through the shelves to see, for instance, how many people are working part-time, or how many people have completed a continuing education program,” says Pfeiffer. “And if the HR manager regularly looks through the shelves, he will immediately see where changes have occurred.”

CITEC researchers are also considering developing a digital office system that makes use of projectors. Digital documents could be displayed as projections on the desktop. The user could put a printed form on their desk, such as an order form, which is automatically scanned. The system could then complete the documents and information belonging to the order (e.g. the delivery slip) using projection, after which the user could authorize a payment.

Thies Pfeiffer is working on additional ideas for the partnership with Ceyoniq Technology GmbH. Future cooperation could include augmented reality, a technique that supplements what the user of special virtual reality glasses actually sees with additional information. For example, a user would start a work process like repairing a laptop, and the glasses would instruct him on what steps to take with messages that appear in the field of vision.

For more information online, please visit:
Virtual Reality Lab: https://www.cit-ec.de/en/central-lab-facilities/virtual-reality-lab
Students produce a virtual reality crime film: http://ekvv.uni-bielefeld.de/blog/uniaktuell/entry/studierende_produzieren_virtual_reality_krimi1

Dr. Thies Pfeiffer, Bielefeld University
Faculty of Technology
Telephone: 0521 106-12373
Email: tpfeiffe@techfak.uni-bielefeld.de