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“Dad, I want to try Virtual Reality!”
The first time Diego, my eldest son, had the chance to experience Virtual Reality was in August 2014. He was very excited because I had told him a lot about the Oculus Rift, the virtual reality glasses that were in prototype stage in that time, and the potential of that technology. Of course, he had also seen some videos on YouTube that described the wonders of the new technology, so he really wanted to try it.
We were in Festigame (the most important videogames expo in Chile) at the only stand where you could actually try the device; it belonged to a snack brand that was promoting its products through a virtual reality experience. They had installed a roller coaster shaped seat and the experience was precisely a high speed ride through a roller coaster full of curves, ups and downs.
When his turn came, he sat very happy in the cart and the assistant put the heavy black device on his head, telling Diego that he should not remove it and wishing him to enjoy the experience. Those of us who were close to him could see on a monitor besides him what he was looking through the Oculus: a fast succession of curves, vertiginous descents and long climbs.
I saw him turn his head several times in different directions and he also raised his hand a couple of times, while I was thinking on how immersed he was to be lifting hands as if he really was on a roller coaster.
Upon completion of the virtual tour, which lasted only a couple of minutes, the attendant came back and removed the glasses. Surprisingly, there was not a bit of joy in his face, but a great expression of frustration. He said he had seen nothing, that everything looked black in the glasses and that he raised his hand and called several times for help, but no one had heard. He had not dared to stand up or to remove the device for fear of breaking it. The device had been accidentally turned off.
Fortunately, the attendant had the common sense to allow Diego to repeat the experience, this time making sure to turn on the device. But anyway, it was clearly not the best first experience for Diego.
During that weekend-long fair, I saw many people leave the same cart with expressions that denoted some degree of discomfort. Most people experienced the Virtual Reality for the first time, and not everyone finished with a happy face. In fact, knowing that I usually feel sick on a real roller coaster, I decided to skip trying the experience myself.
Many questions filled my mind. Does Virtual Reality work? Is it worth all the hype it is getting? Does this technology have any future?
To try to find answers to some of these questions, let’s start with the basics.
What is Virtual Reality?
Many people still believe that Virtual Reality is something very distant and unknown, which can only be seen in science fiction movies. Tron, Matrix or The Lawnmower Man are some of the many productions in which movie makers have given us their vision of this technology.
Of course, the Virtual Reality experience that Diego had two years ago cannot really be compared with the technology presented in these films. What is it, then, this so futuristic technology that seems to promise so much on these days?
Virtual Reality is a technology in which the user is immersed in a virtual world using a device that allows him to see and hear only what corresponds to this virtual world. The most common devices are head-mounted device (HMD) with optical viewfinders and headphones to deliver picture and audio to the user.
So the key for virtual reality to work is to “trick” the senses such as sight and hearing for the user to “feel” that is in another world, immersed in a virtual reality.
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