“Ready Player One,” the Steven Spielberg movie that blends memes from the 1980s with a virtual-reality vision of 2045, is getting mostly positive reviews from film critics and filmgoers, and from box-office trackers as well.
Some see the film as a metaphor for the yin-yang, love-hate, fanboy-hacker relationship we’ve developed with our hyperconnected world. But for techies, one of the biggest allures of “Ready Player One” may well be the way it amps up today’s frontier technologies to reveal tomorrow’s everyday realities.
During a Cinerama preview organized by Madrona Ventures Group, managing director Matt McIlwain told the audience that the movie reflected the VC firm’s interest in intuitive “multisense” interfaces that are on track to transform the way we use high-tech applications.
If you want to go into the theater knowing absolutely nothing about the movie other than what you’ve seen in the teasers, put this story on pause and come back later. But if you’re ready for a quick rundown on five real-world gadgets and tech trends that are amped up for “Ready Player One,” read on.
Haptic suits: The film’s protagonist, Wade Watts, parlays his early success into a big-ticket purchase — a full-body suit that provides haptic feedback. Wearing the suit, he can feel a punch to the gut, or a romantic caress, as if the virtual-reality stimulus were coming from the real world. Rudimentary versions of such suits already exist, and the get-up marketed by Teslasuit looks a lot like what’s on display in the movie.
Omnidirectional treadmills: When you’re running in virtual reality, where do you run? In the movie, a special kind of treadmill lets Watts and other characters walk in any direction while staying in place in their real-world VR rigs. Today, treadmills sold by Kat VR and Vue VR can give you that feeling, but the technology still has a way to go before it works as well as it does in 2045.
Selfie-snapping drones: When fans want to take a selfie with a VR star, they just throw a ball into the air and let it hover in the right position to snap a picture. Selfie drones are already on the market, and some can be programmed to follow you at a standoff distance. They may not work quite as effortlessly as the hoverballs in “Ready Player One,” but while you’re waiting for your spherical selfie snapper, you can play around with the smart, sensor-laden game balls marketed by Seattle startup Play Impossible.
Stackable homes: In the movie, Watts makes his real-world home in a dystopian version of Columbus, Ohio, where mobile homes are layered on top of each other to form “the Stacks.” In the real real world, Harvard engineer Jeff Wilson has set up a startup called Kasita, which delivers 352-square-foot modular habitats that can be moved around or stacked up. You can even take a VR tour, a la “Ready Player One.” Just don’t stack them as high as the Stacks, OK?
Virtual currency that gets real: The most stable currency in “Ready Player One” is the cash that’s generated by taking on adventures (and blowing up foes) in the Oasis virtual world. Watts finds a way to make use of the Oasis credits offline as well as online. The parallels to present-day gaming credits and cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin haven’t escaped attention. Regulators are already taking notice: Just in the past couple of weeks, a city in New York enacted a ban on cryptocurrency mining — and a federal court cracked down on a scheme that let online gamblers convert their virtual chips to real money, in apparent violation of Washington state law.