Monday, August 4, 2014

0.4 SDK: Users of unknown gender now have a gender of “Unknown”

Oculus recently released the 0.4 version of the SDK.  I am primarily a Mac developer and the fact that it isn’t available for the Mac yet is a big disappointment to me. So while I am impatiently waiting for the Mac version, I’ll poke around the Windows version. As the default profile settings were an irritation to me previously, I checked to see if Oculus made changes to the default profile settings and I am pleased to see that they have:

#define OVR_DEFAULT_GENDER                  "Unknown"

That’s right. Users who have not yet created a profile are no longer assumed to be “male”. Instead the default matches reality - when the user’s gender is unknown because the user hasn’t specified a gender, the SDK now returns a gender of “Unknown”.

This is a good step as you will no longer get false data from the SDK. Let's take a closer look at the profile default values

// Default measurements empirically determined at Oculus to make us happy
// The neck model numbers were derived as an average of the male and female averages from ANSUR-88
// These were determined to be the best in a small user study, clearly beating out the previous default values
#define OVR_DEFAULT_GENDER                  "Unknown"
#define OVR_DEFAULT_PLAYER_HEIGHT           1.778f
#define OVR_DEFAULT_EYE_HEIGHT              1.675f
#define OVR_DEFAULT_IPD                     0.064f


It is also good to see that the "neck model numbers were derived as an average of the male and female averages." However, the height here remains as it has in past SDK versions at 1.778f - the average height of an adult male in the US. I'm a little wary of this value as Oculus doesn't indicate how varied the user pool used to determine this value was. They simply say "a small user study." Was this a varied user pool comprised equally of men and women? How varied were the heights of those in the user pool? Without that information or further study, I can't be sure that these values don't introduce bias and it is something I will keep track of in my own user tests.

I've been keeping such a close eye on this issue because I feel that what the writer Octavia Butler said about science fiction applies here and now to VR.

 "There are no real walls around science fiction. We can build them, but they’re not there naturally."
-- Octavia Butler

 There are no real walls around VR. Let's do what we can to not build those walls. VR is for everyone.

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