The early implementations of virtual reality have been spotty at best. From the Sensorama in 1957, an enclosed viewing screen that also emitted smells, to the failed Virtual Boy from Nintendo in 1995, virtual reality simply hasn’t yet won over consumers and found a comfortable corner in the tech industry.
But sci-fi games and film have for decades been inspired by the prospect of real virtual and augmented reality, using special effects to take the tech beyond its real life limitations. And now the reality is finally catching up.
The tech and entertainment industries are gearing up to take advantage. Years ago the intricacy and polish of virtual worlds and devices seemed but a farfetched dream, but this year, we witness the unveiling and evolution of apparatuses that are turning science fiction into fact—with examples, of course.
See the science through glass
Augmented Reality is an increasingly intriguing bit of technology that has gained a bit of a foothold in the mobile market, but Microsoft’s Hololens seeks to bring it into the gaming mainstream. With what are essentially “smart glasses”, the Hololens is a headset that superimposes digital imagery over physical objects. For example, a simple dinner table could turn into a labyrinth at your fingertips that you can explore or manipulate with different gestures.
In Heavy Rain, a mystery game released in 2010, one of the main characters use a piece of equipment called Added Reality Interface or ARI. ARI works with a pair of glasses and a glove. With this, the FBI agent Norman Jayden is able to spot and record evidence in the field, such as tire tracks, bullet casings, and more. This information is saved and can be accessed at anytime, allowing the user to thumb through a digital file cabinet of sorts. Hololens already reflects some of the capabilities presented here, except with no need for a special glove.
Deja Vu, a 2006 film featuring Denzel Washington, contained a system employed by police forces that allowed them to investigate crime zones. The system delves deep into fantasy by film’s end, allowing the officer to interact directly with the past, but some elements of this system as it was initially presented fit snug with the Hololens tech. “Snow White”, as the technology was called, presented a digital crime scene that could be investigated way after a scene had been cleaned up. Washington’s character was able to comb the environment and check for evidence someone may have missed their first time through. Though the fluidity of Snow White’s operation may be far off, Hololens could be a gateway to such a system.
Turning interactive mazes into fantastic worlds
While personal VR devices will offer plenty of fun, theme parks have the potential to take virtual experiences to new heights. The VOID (which stands for “Vision Of Infinite Dimensions”) has players traverse digital worlds that are superimposed over actual physical obstacles. Basically, real life mazes and set pieces are reflected within whatever digital world users are seeing through virtual reality goggles.
Not only does the VOID draw you into its world with the goggles, called Rapture HMD, participants also wear special vests and gloves. The vest serves to deliver physical feedback with pressure and vibration accompanying any hits to the player while the gloves allow one to manipulate physical and virtual items that are a part of the experience. With these devices along with environmental effects such as water sprinklers and air pumps, The VOID is developing into something only witnessed in books and on film. Instead of replicating a fictional tech device though, The VOID could turn fiction into fact by allowing us to insert our full selves into exciting fantasies.
The sky’s the limit with the VOID’s potential for use outside of gaming. The military and police forces have already implemented virtual reality into special training, but the VOID’s combination of VR and physical obstacles can be a solid complement to real life training as the line between the two continues to blur.
Journey as far as your feet can take you
While virtual reality goggles increase the authenticity when it comes to the digital experiences afforded us by video games, friction-based treadmills like the Virtuix Omni are enhancing the gameplay by adding physical exertion to the equation. Working in conjunction with virtual reality devices such as Playstation VR and Oculus Rift, the Omni gets players on their feet so they can walk and run in a safe harness-like stability ring.
In Gamer, a 2009 science fiction film, technology allows players to manipulate other people as if controlling a digital avatar. The player’s movements are echoed by a counterpart which is what Virtuix Omni is working toward. You’re not controlling another human, but the Omni allows a gamer to walk, run, and shoot with true to life movements and mechanics.
While the VOID aims to be the most realistically engaged VR device, Virtuix Omni is the more mobile and consumer friendly option. With a static treadmill that has a manageable footprint, the Omni can fit in arcades and even homes. While there are harnesses that operate similarly to Virtuix Omni to assist people with walking, a few modifications could even make the Omni a tool for engaging physical therapy.
Charles Singletary Jr. was born in Germany, raised in Birmingham, AL, and currently scribbles frivolously in San Antonio, TX. An addiction to the written word cultivated a fascination with fantastic worlds, leading to entertainment journalism and creative fiction. He continues to hone his craft with aims to be a legitimate voice in gaming culture, the seed from which his writing inspiration grows. You can also check more of his work on CharlesSingletaryJr.com.
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