How I Visited Paris and Never Left Home
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.
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.
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.
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?
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