If someone should ask me how I spent the summer of 2017, I’ll say well, I sat atop the London Eye (a giant Ferris Wheel) and gazed out over the city of London, where the glass of the Shard sparkled in the sunlight; I stood before the Eiffel tower in Paris in the same spot where we stood on our visit there in 2013; I re-visited the mansions of the royal family of Denmark in Copenhagen, Vigeland Park in Oslo, Norway and I sat behind the huge metal letters of the “Hollywood” sign in Los Angeles. Thanks to Google Earth VR, I did all this without leaving my home. And that’s just for starters…
Welcome to the future!
This all began when our sons, Kevin and Steven, both computer artists, were assigned to work on a virtual reality (VR) video game based on the sci-fi series, Star Trek. As we are long time Star Trek fans, we were excited to see what this new technology could do.
Kevin, always on the cutting edge of anything computer-related, bought the necessary equipment needed to enter this strange new world, so while we awaited the publication of the Star Trek Bridge Crew game, we tried a few of the sample experiences available in virtual reality.
My son has an extra room in his house that he now uses for the VR games. It is important not to have furniture or obstacles strewn about, as once you don the VR headset, your brain forgets where your body is, and wanders off on an adventure all its own.
Donning the VR headset, my first “adventure” in VR found me standing on the ledge at the top of a skyscraper. At first, I felt frozen, certain I was in danger of falling off. Now get this – I shuffled my feet back a little (hence the reason not to have obstacles lying around). I knew, of course, that I was in a room, my feet planted firmly on the carpet, but it didn’t feel that way. Once I acclimated to the sensation, however, I was able look around. When wearing the VR headset, the experience wraps around you in 3-D, meaning that if I looked up, down, behind me, overhead or in front, I was surrounded by buildings, streets with cars moving about, and pedestrians strolling along on the sidewalks. As I gaze, (careful not to fall off) sounds of city drift up from far below…
Suddenly, I am in a museum, and from around the corner a T-Rex dinosaur appears. As it approaches, it raises its head and lets out a thundering roar and I can almost feel the droplets of saliva spray over me from its open mouth. As it turns to pass me, the dinosaur swings its head closer, its bright orange eye staring right at me. It glides past and I hunch down as its tail swings by barely missing me…
Another fun experience in VR is a ride on a rollercoaster. In the program we have, the coaster runs up, over and between city skyscrapers. Donning the headset, I take a seat, and as we start to climb, I hear that familiar click -click noise of the chains, and feel a sense of acceleration (really!), as it slowly climbs upward and reaches the top. Then the rollercoaster zooms downward, and I hear the whoosh of the air as I fly by. I tend to lean right or left as if I am really moving around the curves and loops of the track (I guess, I am – virtually moving – that is.)
It is incredible how realistic these experiences are, and how easily our brains can be influenced by this effect on our visual senses. I have no doubt these are the precursors of the future holodecks of Star Trek.
Speaking of Star Trek, the Bridge Crew game is amazing. Unlike the regular video games, this one immerses the player in the game. The player sits in the captain’s chair, looks out at objects or other ships on the view screen (hopefully, not photon torpedoes, though that is a possibility), give commands and talks to the crew.
Touch controllers (you hold these in your hands) allow the player to push buttons on the control panels with virtual hands. Various missions are provided for the player and bridge crew to complete. One can play alone or with others both as a group in the home or over the internet.
Of course, I am not suggesting virtual reality as a replacement for travel and adventure. Not yet, anyway. But with the airlines beating up on people, terrorists driving into people, and gun battles in the streets, it does offer a safer alternative.
I do check on my husband occasionally when he is off planet on a mission, to make sure he remembers to return home to Starbase 1 to eat and sleep and, if he should find a better reality out there, to be sure to come back and beam us up!