Mind Palace VR - Virtual Photo Experience

Introduction

Packed away in our minds are memories we love and cherish, so I wanted to create a way for you to experience them in the most intimate way yet. A place for you to go to within your mind. Your Mind Palace.

Innovation in the photos space has been limited to the hosting side (i.e. Google Photos, Amazon Drive, iCloud). There has been no innovation in photo viewing. By making the first 2D photo viewer in Virtual Reality I can show more photos at full-size than any other platform. Users are surrounded by their photos and can interact with them in a unique, but natural way.

Outcome


Mind Palace VR pulls the most recent photos from your Camera Gallery. A spherical grid is dynamically generated, positioning and angling each photo to be centered in your line of view. Hovering over a photo enlarges it. Clicking on it moves the user smoothly towards it. The user can then choose to move on to another photo or back to the original position.


Story of the process

A few weeks ago, my mind struggled to produce ideas for VR. Such a new field must be ripe with lucrative opportunities! I just couldn’t get past one idea: Photos for VR. Thus it began.



Problem 1: Learning Unity
This first obstacle was easy to traverse. Udacity just opened a Virtual Reality Nanodegree which was essentially a glorified introduction to Unity. And it cost $200. I didn’t have $200 bucks. So I used their 1-week free trial + the Github student’s 4-week free trial. 4 + 1… carry the 3… 5 weeks total! Plenty of time.
Learn Unity - Check.

Problem 2: Make a photosphere
Virtual Reality development is unlike other platforms because of the math. 3D environments make UI design 3x as complicated. After a bit of math, a laser printed protractor (true story), and a couple days of struggle I figured it out. Noted the x,y,z positions and angles. Employed a nested for-loop to create the 2D grid and voila - photosphere.

Problem 3: User experience design
VR design is largely uncharted territory. All the 2D paradigms can be thrown out.
The typical photo viewing app works as follows: show a grid of thumbnails of photos, the photo the user clicks on fills the screen, exit the full-screen photo, continue to search.
My app works like this: see all of the photos in the grid in full-res, upon fill the user’s view with the photo while maintaining the environment - so the user only has to glance around to see the other photos, allow the user to jump around the grid or view from a distance.
This design is totally unique. It keeps the user totally i mmersed and fully in-control. Plus it’s intuitive and quick to master.

Problem 4: Size of the grid
I initially had a 7x9 grid. 63 photos. That’s a lot. However the user had to tilt their head up-and-down to uncomfortable degrees. Vertical head movement, I learned, is limited while Horizontal head movement is not. So the grid was reduced to 5x7. The user would only have to slightly tilt their heads upwards or sideways to see all the photos.

Conclusion

After a combined total of 3 weeks of work and the help of a couple of friends, Mind Palace VR was launched in the Google Play Store. It also won Google’s Virtual Reality Challenge at Virginia Tech in the category “Most Marketable”.
Mind Palace has been the first innovative photo viewing application in a long time. Although it won’t be actively developed further (for now), I’m pumped to take my work in VR/AR/MR to the next level. Many a great experience have yet to be devised and I can’t wait to bring them to existence.