Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The future for virtual reality: part two

This is the closest most of us get to experiencing virtual reality,
but more importantly, in this context, such theatres are almost
all that has survived of the enormous theatres of yesteryear
where the immensity of the architecture and the inner space
contributed, psychologically, to the greatness of Hollywood
and helped turn its stars into something akin to royalty. Will
the far more immersive experience of this VR do something
similar in the future when the technology approaches that
of the Star Trek Holodeck? Only time will tell.

photo: Justin Smith
Before donning the headset of the developer's kit for the forthcoming Oculus Rift Q1, Nigel was curious about whether I would need my reading glasses or not (I am far-sighted), and so was I. After a brief experiment with and without, I settled for wearing them, but what I was looking at was virtually at a distance that I would not need glasses to see clearly. Nevertheless, I felt that my sense of vision was being altered, somewhat, by the experience. I would like to experiment more, especially in being able to look at something from a very close virtual distance.

I am sitting in a large theatre which reminds me of the cinemas I knew when I was a young kid. There are the dimmed lights on the walls and the line of small floor lights that reveal the theatre aisles. I can feel the size of the place, just as I remember from back then. Looking down, Nigel's office chair has been transformed into a different chair. I lean downward and see the texture of the carpet on the floor of the theatre and as I look around the illusion is maintained: I feel that I am really there. There is an old black and white movie playing on the screen.

But I am not here to watch the movie, and as I have that thought, my chair suddenly starts sliding to the right and I find myself sitting in the middle of the aisle. Then I begin to travel down the aisle, into another dark space where the same theatre screen is duplicated many times with the movie still playing, and the aisle floor lights still marking the path.

I am outside! It is clear night with no moon and the stars shine brightly in the velvet sky. It seems to be a gigantic storage yard of some kind with alien-looking curved rectangular containers are parked in many rows [simple to duplicate in VR, must have made the development kit cheaper to produce, but a nice effect, anyway] The sky is just light enough, near the ground, to see the outlines of trees around the yard. This must be on the edge of town. The chair continues to move forward.

What is this? I find myself still in the same chair sitting motionless in a modern, well lit, office building. It must be the main floor because the space is very large.Then the chair moves forward again. Suddenly, I am at the edge of a precipice. This is not like being at a shopping mall on an upper floor with its glass fence and a rail so that you do not risk falling to the ground below. This floor just stops. I feel a slight sense of vertigo, I am not one for great heights with nothing between me and what lies below. Then I start moving downward and the experience is identical to being in a glass-walled elevator, but there is no glass. I do not feel any vertigo because the elevator experience comes to the foreground of my consciousness.

I find myself, still in the same chair, in a room. It seems like something from a David Lynch movie with the emotional darkness of Mulholland Drive; an inner-city tenement room that had recently been vacated by the squatters who had lived there. It is grungy, but there are a few new cardboard packing boxes on the floor, contrasting with the stained twin-sized mattress that still remains. Perhaps the movers were reluctant to touch it. I half expect to see used heroin needles here and there, too. I really want to get up from my chair and explore this room. Does it even have a door? Now I start to feel contained by the room. I am reminded of my late wife, Carin Perron's, sestina The Room:
It is dim. It grows dark as I stand in a room.
Something is with me. I don't dare to look
Through the space of such quiet. There is a voice,
A voice I can't hear. I stumble: a book
Is here with me. It rests on the floor; near it, a face
Turns slowly towards me. I search for the volume:

Down in the dark there are words without volume.
I don't stand alone with the voice in this room --
The book is below me -- between us, the face
Hovers darkly before me and dares me to look
Through the grate of its eyes, and reach for the book.
The book makes a sound: it's the sound of a voice.

I'm alone in a room with a face and a voice.
I kneel without looking and grope for the volume;
Nothing is safe here: I must have the words of this book.
Silence fills volumes of dark in this room,
And silent, I move: my fingers must look
Alone, through the blackness, to pierce through that face....
I am three inches tall and in a refrigerator. The door is closed but the light is still on. Looking around, I see fruits and vegetables, a rack of eggs and a couple of full milk bottles (are bottles still used?) but no left-overs or (thankfully) any "science experiment" at the back of a shelf. The only named product is Boursin cheese. The name is getting too much attention. [Is this a paid sponsorship in the kit which hopes for cravings by VR developers? Is it to get the idea across that VR might be a suitable medium for advertising as television viewing diminishes because of Netflix?]

A yellow tape slides out from below me. At first I think it might turn into some sort of flying carpet to take me on a tour, but it then makes a serpentine motion and takes the form of a roller-coaster path. I ride on it through fruits and vegetables, sometimes through gaps between them, and once, an onion rolls out of my way to allow me to pass. My stomach tells me that I am on a real roller coaster at a fairground. It is obviously not in communication with my eyes. It is great fun.

After I removed the headset and saw the real office again; Nigel, Jasmin, and my grandchildren (all of whom had largely vanished from my consciousness during the experience), I had only one thought: "I want one!"

Tomorrow, the mind behind the machine, and much more.

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