Virtual reality isn’t just about legless avatars and forgettable games.
For example, members of the deaf community are now taking advantage of the increasingly sophisticated hand tracking of modern headsets to use sign language in virtual reality.
It’s a compelling use case for the technology, enabling those who grew up with sign language as their first language, those who developed hearing problems later in life, and anyone else who speaks using gestures to communicate effortlessly in virtual worlds.
Meta recently added hand tracking to its Quest 2 headset, allowing users to recreate sign language in a much more realistic way. Using this technology, last week popular VR app VRchat added finger tracking, a new accessibility layer allowing users to use sign language inside the app, as seen in videos shared online.
A user who goes by Jenny demonstrated the feature in a video for UploadVR.
Jenny is part of Helping Hands, a VR sign language community of 5,000 volunteers who teach others how to leverage technology to stay in touch with other community members virtually.
The Quest 2’s hand tracking is a big upgrade over Valve’s Index VR headset, which previously required users to come up with alternatives to common sign language signs. For example, as Jenny demonstrated in the UploadVR video, users had to twist their entire wrist to mimic crossing two fingers.
But the Quest 2 relies on a suite of cameras, not sensors, to track finger movements, allowing for much greater expression of skillful movements.
“As you can see, it might feel a bit smoother and more fluid,” she said. UploadVR. “That’s because it’s actually cameras looking at my real hands rather than a controller guessing and filling in the blanks.”
“It’s really amazing and honestly a little strange to experience after so many years of all the controller movements being pretty stiff,” she added.
Although this is a significant upgrade, the technology still has many limitations. For example, users cannot touch their bodies with their virtual hands, which is required to sign many American Sign Language words.
But it’s a step forward nonetheless, demonstrating that there are plenty of other great use cases for VR – aside from attending boring board meetings while playing a cartoonish, legless avatar.
“I think one of the biggest benefits of VRChat in general for everyone, but especially for deaf and hard of hearing people, is just connecting with anyone in the world,” Jenny said in the video. . “And that’s especially important for people who are deaf and hard of hearing, because they’re much more likely to experience isolation, which is something.”
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