Tumble down the VR rabbit hole at Siggraph

It’s one of several experiences at the Siggraph 2023 Immersive Pavilion.

Karen Moltenbrey

A visit to the Immersive Pavilion during Siggraph 2023 will enable attendees to experience a unique Alice in Wonderland journey. One of the installations, “Alice in Gravityland,” uses a range of technologies, including VR, hand tracking, haptics, and more, for a fun, gravity-bending, mind-blowing journey.

“Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrariwise, what it is, it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?” —Alice, Alice in Wonderland

Author Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) introduced generations to a very strange world, indeed, in his book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass. We have experienced the wild-looking characters, objects, and environments through words, drawings, cartoons, and even a cutting-edge (at the time) live-action film from Walt Disney Pictures in 2010 that uses a blend of 2D, 2.5D, and 3D technologies to transport us to this whimsical world, where even the live-action characters were scaled or manipulated in some way to create a very trippy aesthetic.

Aline in Wonderland
(Source: National Taiwan University and Taiwan Tech)

At Siggraph 2023, attendees will be able to venture down the rabbit hole yet again and experience this adventure like never before through the use of VR. According to Mike Chen, professor at National Taiwan University (NTU), the inspiration for this project came from the group’s collective interest in pushing the boundaries of cutting-edge VR and haptic technologies to create immersive and out-of-this-world experiences. And boy, did they ever.

“Alice in Gravityland: Augmenting Gravity Experiences with Around-the-head Vibrotactile Feedback and Illusory Tactile Motion” will enable visitors at the Siggraph Immersive Pavilion to experience this world in a very different and unique way using VR, haptics, hand tracking, augmented gravity, and other technologies. It is a world that VR seems perfectly suited for.

“The story of Alice in Wonderland is analogous to experiencing VR. When Alice tumbles down the rabbit hole, she is transported to a completely new world—much like putting on a VR headset and entering a wonderland of your own where your wildest dreams are possible,” says Luca E. Taglialatela, who is completing his master’s degree in computer science and information engineering at NTU.

This story begins in a university classroom, conceived as a way to foster cross-disciplinary collaboration between engineering and design students. The project is a joint venture between NTU and Taiwan Tech, with participants building the interactivity and designers crafting the 3D models and textures according to their level of expertise. Unbelievably, many of the students were fairly new to VR development, learning along the way as they journeyed to Gravityland.

Visitors to “Alice in Gravityland” are presented with a whimsical puzzle game based on the off-the-wall Alice in Wonderland theme. Adding to this most curious journey are virtual gravity experiences they will encounter. As Chen noted in his interview with Siggraph, the illusory tactile motion haptic experience offered by the wearable headset is a novel sensation that most participants will be experiencing for the first time. 

“Drawing inspiration from the original story, we designed puzzles that needed to be solved by changing the player’s size and reversing time. Defying gravity is a surreal experience only possible through VR and a natural extension of the Alice in Wonderland universe, where the extraordinary is ordinary,” said Taglialatela.

While working on the project, the group encountered a number of challenges that required particular attention. This included having to fine-tune the interaction and haptic feedback technologies, as well as smoothing out the hand tracking and making it more responsive. Also, they had to design the vibrotactile patterns that complemented the gravity experiences while also making them distinct from one another.

Members of the team include: Professors Chen and Neng-Hao (Jones) Yu, Taglialatela, Chiao-Ju Chang, Shu-Wen Chen, Chang-Min Chen, Zih-Huei Yang, Tsung-Min Lin, and Shih-Yu (Leo) Ma.

The Siggraph Immersive Pavilion, which showcases AR, VR, and MR, is always a popular attraction at the conference. Siggraph 2023 runs from August 6–10 in Los Angeles.