I was standing on an elevated platform — high enough from the ground that my brain was instinctively telling me to stay away from the edge.
From above I could hear the enemy drone approaching, preparing to shoot missiles in my direction.
Sensing the imminent attack, I jumped out of the way and swung with my energy sword, trying to slice the back of the missile as it zipped by my head.
Except, in reality, I was standing in a living room in a high-rise residential building near downtown Seattle. I was wearing headphones, a light backpack of gear, an Oculus VR headset, and holding two PlayStation Move controllers. The system was connected wirelessly to a nearby PC. Around me was a motion-capture system, tracking tiny markers on top of my head and on the handheld controllers.
After a few minutes of this, I was sweating, breathing hard, and completely blown away by the experience. Here’s what it looked like from the outside.
The prototype was created by Atomic VR — the team of Seattle-based developer Ben Teitler and audio specialist Mike Lenzi — using custom software and a creative combination of off-the-shelf hardware components, including wireless HDMI, wireless USB, a portable battery pack, and a professional motion-capture system that uses 16 cameras to help track the user’s position in real time.
The reality of the experience is further enhanced by a high-speed video frame rate, and 3D audio in the headphones.
In short, it felt like I was there, dodging missiles and battling a drone.
Teitler and Lenzi are part a new wave of virtual reality developers taking advantage of the latest advances in VR technology. Their prototype is an impressive example of how far virtual reality has come, and a small glimpse of what’s ahead as the technology evolves.
“The promise of having a holodeck in the living room is what we see as the future,” says Lenzi. “People will have something like this in their homes.”
Here’s a video from Atomic VR, providing a sense for what the experience is like. Of course, it’s not the same as actually using it, with the two stereoscopic views combined into an immersive three-dimensional scene. With the Oculus and headphones on, it feels you’re in the scene.
Lenzi and Teitler, who have bootstrapped their venture so far, will be joining other VR developers from around the world this week as attendees at the first Oculus Connect developer conference in Los Angeles, and next month they will be demonstrating their prototype experience at a private event at Seattle’s Living Computer Museum.
Charles Fitzgerald, a veteran technology executive and Seattle-area angel investor who has been exploring opportunities in virtual reality, describes the Atomic VR prototype as “the coolest and most immersive of all the VR experiences I have seen.”
Oculus VR demonstrations such as those at the recent PAX convention tend to be seated experiences, tethered to the computer or console with wires.
But developers like Atomic VR are pushing the limits with new wireless implementations. One effect is to dispel the notion that virtual reality will turn us all into couch potatoes. Teitler is a gymnast and martial artist, and a big part of his goal is to get people moving.
“I don’t want people to stand in place with a gun and shoot at things, because we’ve been doing that for years,” he explains.
Lenzi and Teitler are working on their business plan, and are looking for a commercial or retail partner in Seattle for the first deployment outside of Tietler’s apartment. More information is available through the Atomic VR site.
Expect to see more of these virtual realty systems in the months and years ahead, with far-reaching applications. Fitzgerald predicts, “We’re going to see a continuum of VR experiences ranging from just the head mounted display up through very elaborate, venue-based experiences.”