Is virtual reality finally ready to bring our dreams out in the open? The Daily Shift’s Aaron Mc Nicholas paid a visit to the Science Gallery to find out…
This holiday season, let’s move to another world. It’s all in our heads, but that’s not a bad thing.
The virtual reality platform Project Holodeck made its European debut in Dublin’s Science Gallery last night. The launch was the start of the Science Gallery’s GAME: NEXT exhibition, which runs until Friday. Visitors will be able to sample the virtual world of Wild Skies, where they will harness the power of the Oculus Rift headset to combat pirates in the sky.
“My favourite comment I heard today was: ‘Can I get this for Christmas?’ said Julie Tausend, spokesperson for Project Holodeck. “That’s what we like to hear.”
Sadly, this new universe isn’t ready for Christmas shoppers this year, but the finished product will be more likely to redesign your Christmas tree than to find a place under it. Put the headset on, and a helpful voice will conjure up a forest, just to show how easy it is. Then, you’ll be invited to steer a floating ship while shooting cannons at incoming enemies.
“You’re going to hit the iceberg,” laughed James Iliff, producer of the VR project. It’s unclear whether the tester heard the warning, but the impending collision was up on the screen for everyone to see. “Just watching it, that’s almost more fun sometimes,” James added.
A virtual collision isn’t realistic enough to cause mental scarring, at least not yet. But moving between universes brings its own variety of jet lag. James explained that some people can play for eight hours with no ill effects, while others will start feeling dizzy within minutes.
“What we want to find out from the tests is how soon people get virtual reality sickness,” James said. “Some people finish playing and then they’re not fully out of the immersion for 2-3 hours.”
Fortunately for the Project Holodeck team, Science Gallery Board Chairman Chris Horn reported no dizziness after trying on the Oculus Rift. Others spoke of strange but positive experiences.
“Being able to see your hands right in front of you as a virtual character is really really different,” said Brett Lawless, a software engineer at ecommerce business Von Bismark. “You can just see a couple of basic squares that represent your hands. Then I looked down and found guns at my sides.”
James hopes that this immersive gaming experience can eventually be made available to customers for just €600. Director of Project Holodeck Nathan Burba added that this price would be “tens of thousands less than any other system that does this.”
That’s the amount of money that the United States military spends on training simulations in virtual reality conditions. It’s serious money for serious business, but once Project Holodeck launches a game that looks as good as Call of Duty, Uncle Sam won’t be America’s most powerful recruiter any more.
Elsewhere in the GAME: NEXT exhibition, visitors could try on a new pair of ears that change direction with every mood swing. These cat ears, the Necomimi, stand upright when one is a state of concentration. If you’re looking to replace your magic 8 ball as a decision-making device, these ears should be able to tell you which choice is more interesting to you just by how much they wiggle.
When you relax your mind, the Necomimi will droop downwards. The ears are part of a range of brainwave sensory products developed by US multinational NeuroSky. According to Andrea Hellmann, junior sales officer at the company’s EU office in Germany, the most interesting thing the company is researching is how people get relaxed while wearing the ears.
“People can work with these feelings,” Andrea said. “The big task is to figure out what you’ve done [to get relaxed] and save the feeling.”
Of course, trying to get relaxed at a public exhibition is not going to be met with the same success as getting relaxed in private. One visitor who tested the Necomimi tried closing his eyes, but was left unsure how the ears were reacting.
“It was a bit weird,” said Ciaran McGrath, student of interactive digital media at Trinity College. “You know they’re moving. You can’t tell which direction, but you hope you’re getting relaxed.”
Andrea has seen the ears being tested on over 1,000 people across Europe, but not a single one managed to get the ears down. “It’s the nature of an exhibition,” she said. The Necomimi can also be used in gaming, where players must achieve a certain mood for their character to advance.
Putting on these ears makes you resemble Hello Kitty, but not all video games have such friendly characters. If this technology becomes widespread, you can expect that the best players of Grand Theft Auto in the future will be those that can think like a gangster.