~vilmibm's virtual reality diaries


this page collects my thoughts and experiences experimenting with virtual reality as an environment for day to day computing (not gaming).

My goals for this project are to come up with a VR computing environment that is:

  1. low cost relative to products optimized for gaming (ie vive, rift, console-based VR).
  2. mobile. this system should be useful on a plane ride, in a bar, or on the couch.
  3. reuse of hardware useful outside of VR (ie a commodity laptop or smartphone).
  4. modular.
  5. as open source as is reasonable (to avoid forced obsolesence).
  6. comfortable for eyes (ie usable for over an hour without pain or eye strain).
  7. ergonomically friendly. I want a healthy, straight back while computing on the go instead of hunching over my laptop.
  8. glasses-friendly. It's not possible to accomodate every size of glasses, but an environment should support some.

Some caveats about my biases:

  1. I don't intend to implement any or very much of my own code to make this work.
  2. I'm using linux as a host OS and android as a smartphone OS.
  3. The computing tasks I'm focusing on:


long flight

I've crammed my 6'0", increasingly paunchy body into the middle seat for a six hour flight. I have a full battery on my laptop and would rather be somewhere other than the stuffy cabin.

There is no plane wifi, but there is a story I've been working on that I have saved offline. I connect a USB-C cable to my airplane-mode phone, setting it to not charge so my laptop battery doesn't get drained any faster. I mount my phone and switch off the laptop screen.

I also put my hat on, letting the bill cover the mount. I don't really want to have a conversation about it if I can avoid it.

Eventually, I'm tapped on the shoulder. I undo my belt, push up the mount, and hold my mostly-shut laptop to my chest and let the window seat person out for the restroom.

I happily work on my story, taking breaks to watch part of a movie1 I've saved locally. The plane ride is a distant thought until my laptop battery gets low2 (or we land) and I read a dead-tree book the rest of the way.

1: I've not yet had success with video playback over VNC. still investigating.
2: Some planes have power outlets, but only intermittently. they never seem worth counting on.

day time cafe

I've got my coffee, laptop, and mount in front of me at a small table. My laptop is plugged into the wall and my phone into my laptop. I have a few more hours on the clock and want to get some code written and tested before the end of my day.

I mount my phone and switch off the laptop screen. I don't bother putting on a hat: the charging devices in front of me are generating heat and I don't want to be any hotter.

Keeping my laptop on the table is hurting my wrists, so I push up the mount and attach a portable keyboard. I put the keyboard in my lap, sit back, and get back to work.

Reaching for my coffee is scary without being able to see, so I enable the external camera on my phone. Now I can see the region beyond my screen. Once my coffee is finished I flip it back off.

My code occupies the center third of my screen, with a terminal running tests to the right and slack/firefox to the left. I can happily ignore chat distractions until I physically look over at the Slack window and otherwise get my work done.

I throw my mount, laptop, and peripherals in my bookbag and head home.

night time bar

I'm meeting friends at a bar, but got here way too early. I have a small laptop, my phone, and a mount in my tote bag. I wanted to take some notes about a new story and figured I could use the 20 minutes at the bar to do that.

I order a cocktail and set it in front of me. My knees are relatively flat, so I set my laptop on it and turn off its screen. Nothing is charging and the bar is nicely chilled, so I put my hat on over my mount and open Libreoffice.

It's too dark to bother with the external camera, so I have to peek under the mount to get my cocktail to my face. I don't mind, since I'm not focusing too hard. I keep facebook messenger open in the corner, and get a chat that my friends are running early. I shut the laptop and toss everyhing back into my tote bag so I can greet them.

relaxing at home

I have a desk and monitor for computing at home, but I had a long day and want to lie on the couch. I set my plugged in laptop on the coffee table, stretching one cable to my phone and another to a keyboard. I put a wireless trackball next to me on the couch surface.

I split IRC with firefox in my center third and have twitter and messenger open on the left third. To the right I have an ebook occupying a full column.

I lay flat on my back with my face pointed towards the ceiling, holding the keyboard against my knees.

After a while my partner comes home. I switch off the mount, make a peripheral pile on the coffee table, and we watch a movie on the laptop.

sitting in the park

I was sitting on the grass in a park reading on my laptop but the glare got too intense to see my screen.

I connect my mounted phone to a headset, just centering my ebook in the display. I put a hat on to keep the sun off of the mount, which is already warm.

Since I'm just reading, I lay down and occasionally tap a button on the computer next to me to advance pages.

Once my battery gets low on the laptop, I toss the mount and computer into my book bag and go for a walk in the park.

gear inventory

Merge headset

Type of thing Headmount with phone slot
External camera passthrough? Yes
Cost $50-$80
Supported devices Most smartphones, including larger ones (like Nexus 6)
Construction material Hard, malleable foam
Built in buttons? Yes
Remote or other detached peripheral? No

Daydream headset

Type of thing Headmount with phone slot
External camera passthrough? No
Cost $70-$80
Supported Devices Pixel devices. Other devices untested.
Construction material Fabric with foam face-rest
Built in buttons? No
Remote or other detached peripheral? Yes, remote

Pixel smartphone

Nexus 6 smartphone

Marley Nesta headphones



software inventory

VR Remote Desktop

Google Cardboard

Google Daydream

kit reviews

nexus 6 + merge

pixel + daydream

pixel + merge

Developing non-gaming VR products? Want to accomodate the remote-working demographic? I'd be happy to work with you on a contract basis. Send a message to nks AT neongrid DOT space about it :).

all non-trademarked content licensed under terms of Creative Commons BY-SA