What is this Giant, Heavy Black thing Strapped to my Head? Adventures in Virtual Reality Wearables from the Pioneers of Oculus Rift, Unity, and More

October 9, 2014

I am so excited about the potentials of virtual reality. Not necessarily just for gaming and entertainment, (still not sure what Facebook has in mind for the social aspect) but for the ways it will help transition interfaces away from screens and into real life experiences. That is why I couldn't wait to gear up for the VR demo night taking place at the Unity offices downtown. Forget bringing a purse or handbag to these types of events. Either a backpack with a demo kit or a utility jacket with plenty of pockets will do the trick.

There was limited admission, and I didn't understand why until I saw the line curling around an entire building.
Once inside, I was asked to pose on the "red carpet". As you can see, I'm still not quite sure how to officially pose in front of a camera...but I felt like it was ok here to be a little dorky.

Honestly, I almost changed the title of this post to "What Happens when Disneyland gets Crammed into a Men's Locker Room". The ratio of women to men at this thing was about 1:100, (and I think the air conditioner may have been on the fritz) but the absolute thrill of observing and trying out the demos made every minute worthwhile.

First stop was the line for the Meta 1 demo. I made it past their bouncer by answering a series of questions related to quantum physics.

Once strapped in, I could see what the buzz was all about. Meta 1 allows you to have direct eye contact with another human being, while still interacting with the augmented reality software. The screen is completely transparent.

The beta version was a little rough, but pushing the air and clasping my hands 'around' 3D objects wound up creating delightful experiences that simulated breaking and fixing mechanical parts inspired by the Iron Man films. Sounds like they are working on bringing some of your favorite childhood board games back with a twist, really looking forward to that. Find out more here on the spaceglasses site.

Next I waited (for what felt like a century) to experience the Star Wars inspired light saber demo with full Oculus gear as well as the STEM system (special two-handed controllers). I had to show my reaction with this image, as when I first witnessed what it is like to leave a world you are still standing in, and easily control an interface with a new pair of hands. 

In this world, your hands are not your own, and you must adapt to your new ones. My first task was to choose which color light sabers I would battle with. "First pick your color, this is very important." The demonstrator said. Then room went black and all I could see were my new arms stretched out in front of me. Lining up the visual ques with my arms, I reached out and chose first teal, then pink of course. 

Before I knew what was happening, I was being shot at with lasers and had to use the motion sensing 'sabers' to defend myself. Completely inside the rendered spaceship, I defended myself against the drone, swinging and dodging against the attacks...and probably looking like an insane person to nearby observers. 

This system felt groundbreaking. So easy to manipulate shapes and interact with the 3D interface held the promise of someday leaving our desks and creating things with our hands rather than a cursor.

This system will be available for purchase soon, created by Sixense Entertainment, Inc. I'm thinking of bringing one to our family's Thanksgiving celebration next month. These games would be great for fun mini competitions and ice-breakers. 

Sure, I love jewelry as much as the next girl, but what really does it for me is adding in an interactive component. 

This company, Nod, has used technology from Leap Motion to simulate minimal gesture based controls on various displays. While I wouldn't say the rings are quite fetching (the ones I tried on were also really big) but...the idea of taking a screen away from at least one side of a UX is a great start. For example, now instead of using your phone (that is probably busy posting to micro blogs) to change the channel on your smart TV, you can flick your finger to search for new shows.

This demo also gave me new arms that I could control with extremely minimal movements.

Last but not least, don't forget the smartphone! A few makers out there are still providing unique experiences using software we can download on our iOS and Android devices. The one pictured above from MergeVR has some interesting plans to make the foam-like material with adjustable IPD and focal length adjustments more fashionable. 

The companies using phones as a tool start to make VR and AR more accessible to everyone at a faster rate is very interesting. Pictured above is a new AR face-filters app to be released soon from Looksery. I changed my look with some creepy blue alien eyes built into a black and white image. (You can see the photo here on my twitter feed)

I got to take this one home with me, the Virtual Reality Cardboard Toolkit, and cant wait to talk more to the team from DodoCase about and plans for what's next. More on this coming soon...

Thanks so much to everyone I chatted with and to those who made this event experience so wonderful. Big things are about to transpire in the world of Virtual Reality and we are just at the very tip of the iceberg. What are your thoughts around it? Around these wearables? Is this the beginning of something great or should we tread lightly with so many unknowns...  I'm curious to hear. Ping me on social media or here in the comments section.

PS: A rather embarrassing amendment as I recently discovered of my fellow geeks posted a video of me in Oculus here on YouTube...#lmfao.

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