This came up in an online discussion again: VR has a “cat problem”. I have been using this phrase myself for a few years, and was challenged to come up with a referencable source about it, but couldn’t find one. Please contact me by email or on Twitter (@anthony_steed) if you have another source that I’ve forgotten. So here is a definition of the cat problem.
Head-mounted VR mostly obscures your view of the real world. While you can switch to a view of the real world (e.g. on the Vive Pro or Oculus Quest), you generally don’t see your surroundings. Today, chaperones and guardian systems are ubiquitous in platform software, but we forget that this feature hasn’t been with us since these devices launched. E.G. Oculus added a guardian system in late 2016. The Quest launched with a guardian, but then it pretty much had to because being untethered there was little guide that you would walk into a wall.
The guardian usually keeps us from walking into furniture and walls, but like many users I expect, I occasionally still punch something solid, especially when playing disc golf in Rec Room.
The cat problem is neatly explained by this Tweet:
Where the hell are our VR cat trackers???!!! pic.twitter.com/YrvgUVa3c7
— Denny Unger @Home (@DennyCloudhead) May 25, 2019
The consumer HMDs can’t track moving objects coming into the safe region, be they cats or humans. Thus the user may be unaware of danger. In principle it seems that with the prevalence of cameras on HMDs for tracking that this feature might become available in the future. It would mesh nicely with academic work that has looked at recruiting real objects as obstacles or utensils for the virtual world.
On the term itself. I first remembering talking about this when I met with Henrique Olifiers at Bossa Studios to discuss some VR projects (late 2015 I think). They had early prototypes of the Vive HMDs including one with external cameras. Perhaps the term came from Henrique or one of the VR developers whose names I’m afraid I have now forgotten.