How I Visited Paris and Never Left Home

by / Monday, 16 September 2013 / Published in Random Adventure Posts

Oculus Header

So let’s be honest here. I’m not very technically inclined.

Actually, that’s putting it nicely. I can barely operate my Macbook Pro… You know, the one that I’ve owned for SIX years. I don’t know how I’ve managed to hold down a blog for two years.

As far as I’m concerned magic saves my photos and creates word documents. Don’t ask me to explain or do anything fancy with technology. Ever. We’re all better off.

I mean, to my credit, I have worked a few CES conventions and learned a lot about upcoming products. But no-one really brings up multi-parallax glasses-free 3D televisions over coffee. So my WEALTH of knowledge on the subject is left untapped. Such is life.

So when my friend Seth, owner of Voodoo Puppy Games, told me he had received his development kit of the Oculus Rift, I just sat there drinking my coffee. His excitement was lost on me. I had no idea what that meant. As far as I was concerned, he had just received a shipment of Lincoln Logs from Amazon. He could knock himself out.

In my defense, I wasn’t allowed to play video games growing up, so I never kept up on them. And when I gave him this explanation he sighed and told me to come check it out. “I think you’ll like it. And who knows? You might get a story out of it.”

I’m always up for a new adventure, but even this one seemed lackluster. I didn’t have very high hopes, but HE was excited about it. So I obliged.

For those of you unfamiliar, like myself, the Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset that is rumored to change the future of gaming and possibly the way we interact with software in general. It’s the next generational step, allowing for fully immersive 3D experiences. Now, not only can you play a game, but you interact in it like you would in real life.

Rift Dev Kit

It makes your experience life-like. It allows you to step into an imaginary world and actually feel like you’re there.

That’s the best explanation I’ve got. If you need something more sciency, Google it. =)

Gaming philosophers have prophesized that it will change how we interact, what we are able to do, and what experiences we are able to have. Right now the technology is still in it’s infancy, having been slowly distributed to developers to help propel it forward and create awesome experiences with the set. There are currently only a few developers in Nevada that have them. And I had a Golden Ticket.

So I met with my friend to try out his new toy. I put on the funky snorkel mask, the lenses pushing against my eyelashes (it has to sit close to your eyes in order to wrap the image). He opened Google Maps and told me to close my eyes until we were in.

“I know you’re not a gamer, but I think this may interest you as a travel blogger. A developer has created an application that puts you in street view.”

I waited, eyes closed, to see how deep this rabbit hole went.

After a few clicks of the mouse he told me I could open my eyes.

I took a deep breath and did just that. My mind was taken aback.

Hilary Oculus 1

I was floating above the streets of Paris.

I was sitting on top of a car and didn’t have a body, but I was THERE.

“Whoa,” was all I could say.

I twisted and turned all around in my chair, blown away. I was IN a PICTURE. It was REAL. I could explore Paris through a virtual world.

The trees looked tangible, the storefronts were dimensional, and the picture quality was impressive. I’ve been to Paris before, but not without paying hundreds of dollars for a plane ticket. And yet by wearing this funky snorkel mask I was back.

I almost fell out of my chair I was so excited. I kept reaching out to touch things, forgetting that my surroundings weren’t actually there.

Hilary Oculus reaching

My friend talked me through the experience.  “This is still a prototype. In future commercial kits, Oculus plans to add position tracking and higher def screens, along with other improvements. It’ll only get better from here.”

I nodded, barely paying attention to his voice. I was busy exploring Paris.

Three minutes later, I was ready to throw up.

As it turns out, there are some downsides to testing a developing technology. Even though I felt like I was in Paris, after a few minutes I felt motion sick.

Seth explained the hiccups causing my nausea.

“There are a number of things that contribute to an immersive experience and your brain is very keen to notice when any of these things are off, even just a little bit. This includes latency, depth perception, body motion, and too many other things to list. Your brain tends to respond by assuming something is physically wrong with your ability to perceive the world correctly. In turn, it starts trying to fight off whatever it is.”

So my body decided in order for me to help ‘fight’ whatever was wrong, I should want to vomit.

I came out of the Matrix— I mean Oculus Rift— and took a few deep breaths. Seth continued.

“Most developers are still learning to create for this device. Of course, added sensors for depth and improved screen resolution will make a big difference. As the hardware gets better, combined with smarter development, you’ll notice less of these early issues with nausea. Aside from all that technical gobbledygook, it takes some getting used to. If you don’t jump out of airplanes in real life, doing it in the Rift is going to make your stomach drop. That’s part of what makes it so awesome.”

I nodded, patting my body down, ensuring it was there.

Then I sat in stunned silence.

“Well, what did you think?” He asked.

“I think (breath) I may (another breath) need some Dramamine…” I huffed.

Was I impressed? Yes. The potential of this virtual reality experience was endless. You could teach classes, socialize with friends, experience adventures you were too afraid to try in person, and even travel.

For someone who is bedridden, or sick, or even just wants to get a feel for a town before they visit, there would soon be a realistic way to see the world.

It could even make your grandmother react like this:

This technology could potentially enhance Google Maps and how we watch television. It could potentially enhance a lot of things.

Would it ever replace classrooms or travel? I certainly hoped not. But my journey through the Oculus Rift left me overwhelmed, excited, and even a little terrified of the future.

Suddenly, almost anything seemed possible.

I mean, I just got back from PARIS. How crazy was THAT?


26 Responses to “How I Visited Paris and Never Left Home”

  1. Sounds interesting and incredible. When will this be on the market, or is it already?

    • Hilary says : Reply

      It’s pretty incredible for sure!

      The Rift is currently in its developmental stages. There is no official release date for the consumer version, but my developer friend guesstimates we’ll see it in the next year or two. :)

      Thanks so much for commenting! Where would you like to visit virtually?

    • Joe says : Reply

      It is incredible! They are selling these kits on the market right now, but Hilary is correct in saying that this is mainly for developers (but it will work for consumers also). It is an amazing product, but there are a few kinks they would like to get out before selling it on the mass market. Oculus is aiming for a consumer version next year. The consumer version will have higher resolution, positional tracking, and be a much more aesthetically pleasing and comfortable device. The guys over at Oculus are doing an amazing job and have a real passion for VR. I believe this technology will have a huge impact on our world and most people have no idea it’s coming! I’m excited.

      BTW if you are interested in ordering one here is the website:

  2. Ben says : Reply

    I took a gamble and purchased an Oculus Rift developer kit, despite having no skills in developing games/software whatsoever. IT WAS WORTH IT. Similar to your experience in Paris – I showed a friend of mine his hometown in Columbia – a place he hadn’t been back to in over 10 years – he cried with joy as he pointed and laughed at his old bike route as we scrolled through his neighborhood into town while he was wearing the rift. It was a magical experience. And as your friend suggests – it is only the beginning and just one application (Rift + Google Streetview). I helped my friend who is a race car driver by letting him spend a few hours behind the wheel of my racing simulator paired with the Rift. He was able to place 5th in a field of over 35 cars at a track he had never driven before because he had “Been there” in the rift and could learn each nook and cranny… not too geek out too much but – ITS AWESOME… :) Thanks for writing about it!

    • Hilary says : Reply

      What an amazing story! I have a feeling that this technology could allow a lot of folks who are unable to visit in person a chance to rekindle old memories.

      And what a GREAT idea! I only thought about it as a way to prep for a trip or to help get you acquainted with a location before you travel, but that makes PERFECT sense. Smart guy! And congrats to him. :)

      Thank you for reading and commenting! What do you want to see next from the Rift?

  3. Been a reader of your blog for some time now. Just been amazed that your view of the world seems so akin to mine.

    But, i’ve been a gamer longer and by God, for you to understand the potential of the Oculus Rift astounds me. You are miles ahead than your contemporaries.

    To bring the idea of the rift into the world of travel (writing) takes a lot of genius and you Ma’am have got it in spades. (Judging by your words)

    I smile, coz for once I feel the whole Women’s lib thing seems to actually get it. You don’t got to be like us. You just gotta be you.


    • Hilary says : Reply

      Hi there! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! I’m so happy to hear you enjoy the blog. :)

      And thank you for the kind words. I greatly appreciate it! It’s easier to understand the potential when you’ve experienced the technology, I think. But I feel very privileged to help introduce it to the traveling community. :)

      Have you had a chance to demo the kit yet? Where would you like to virtually travel to?

      • Sadly, the rift is far from reaching the shores of India. Besides I’m not fortunate enough to hang out in circles that have access the the Rift DK.

        But yeah I’m equally mind blown with just Google Earth.=>

        I do a bit of traveling around my country and though I think virtual travel is awesome for people that may never get the chance otherwise.

        It ain’t for me. I need the smells and the tingles and everything that comes with trotting.

        Thanks for taking time to reply back. Keep trekking.

        • Hilary says : Reply

          Yes, I feel incredibly lucky to have had the chance to demo the technology. One day soon hopefully the commercial version will be available! You’ll have to e-mail me when it is and tell me your thoughts.

          And I agree with you! I don’t think the Rift will ever ‘replace’ actual travel, but it sure is a great tool to have. :)

          Thanks so much for commenting and taking the time to read! Looking forward to being in touch! Happy adventuring!

  4. As I understand what you saw was google street view… that is not 3d stereoscopic.. if it were then you were really impressed! well, google has tons of money so they can star right now to recapture the world, this time in stereoscopic images haha…

    • Hilary says : Reply

      Hi Carlos! Thanks for commenting!

      I also went through a lot of other 3D demos as well as the Google Street View one. I decided to post about this one in particular because I liked the travel aspect.

      And while I’m not very familiar with all the technical terms, I will say that it felt dimensional enough for me (a non-gamer). I don’t know if it’s perfect or if they will eventually retake all the photos differently, but it was pretty darn awesome to travel back to Paris and have my mind do a double take. :)

      Have you had a chance to try it? What’s been your favorite demo?

  5. Gene says : Reply

    Holy cow! Do you know what that is? That’s a prototype to the headset version of the Holodeck used on the ship Equinox in the Star Trek series Voyager! (Yes I had to Google the ship’s name.)

    This is huge! Imagine what this tool can do for the blogging world. Instead of taking us with you on your hikes through your words and pics, you will also be able to immerse us in your travel with videos in this goggle!

    • Hilary says : Reply

      Haha! Everyday we’re living out science fiction. Isn’t it awesome?

      And I KNOW! It will change a lot of how we can experience things. I found (and have heard through forums) that when you demo the Rift, you don’t even want to do anything (like jump off buildings or whatever current games have you do). You just enjoy sitting still and looking around. It’s literally like jumping into a new world and can be very peaceful.

      Where would you want to visit virtually?

      • Gene says : Reply

        Can I give a list?

        Great Wall of China, Inside the great pyramids, “The Shire” in New Zealand, 1960’s Nurburing (race track) in Germany (driving a Ferrari GTO, of course), The Rockies on Colorado, San Francisco, and Vegas. Gotta say Hi ya know.

        • Hilary says : Reply

          Oooh! I love the idea of going to The Shire! Actually, they all sound pretty amazing. Good choices. And of course, you have to come to Vegas! :)

  6. Shane says : Reply

    I would like to visit tons of places virtually. Probably to a futuristic city on the moon or something like that. I can’t wait until virtual tourism like this goes online and thousands of other people wearing rifts can walk around and travel with you.

    • Hilary says : Reply

      Ooh! Good idea! I would like to own one of the first virtual tourist destinations on the moon. I wonder how I can arrange that…

      PS- Virtual tourism sounds amazing. You don’t have to pay bag fees.

  7. Orion says : Reply

    You should try the Omni! It pairs with the Oculus rift to let you walk around it’s a multi directional treadmill, pair that with a Wiimote (to switch threw favorite spells/gear and inventory) and the connect and you could play Elder Scrolls V skyrim and cast spells with just lifting your arms and you could do your morning jog… IN SKYRIM, glad to see people getting excited about VR.

    • Hilary says : Reply

      Oh wow. That sounds like WAY too much for me to handle personally. For some reason I see myself falling over and injuring myself on a multi-directional treadmill, but it sounds SUPER cool!

      And I’m glad! Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  8. Naomi says : Reply

    The title intrigued me and I was wondering what it could mean but WOW what an incredible technology!

    • Hilary says : Reply

      Thank you, Naomi! I’m glad it was eye-catching. :)

      And yes! Our world is about to change, I think. Where would you like to travel virtually?

  9. Libby says : Reply

    This technology sounds wonderful if they can eliminate the nausea feeling in you in future. Funny you should mention Paris as I’m leaving for Paris in a few weeks.

    • Hilary says : Reply

      Hi Libby! Thanks so much for commenting!

      Yes, in the consumer versions the nausea issue should be addressed.

      And how exciting! How long will you be there? I loved it when I visited!

  10. Sounds very interesting :)

    • Hilary says : Reply

      Thank you, miss Alexandra! I don’t think it will replace actual travel, but it certainly expands the possibilities! :)

Leave a Reply