The VOID, the virtual reality theme park experience, has caused quite a stir in the industry over the last 12 months. Now, the company are taking their free-roaming brand of mixed reality entertainment to TED2016 and Road to VR‘s Chris Madsen got a sneak peek at the new customer hardware attendees to the show will experience.
The VOID is heading to Vancouver for perhaps the biggest spectacle TED conference goers have ever seen. On February 15th, The VOID will be lifting its curtains for all the world to get a megadose of some of the most immersive virtual reality on the planet. Having met with the team at The Void lab this weekend, I can assure you they will be pulling no punches. A massive new traveling stage, new hardware and new mind bending mixed reality tricks from our favorite cyber magician, Curtis Hickman, will be unleashed upon over 1,500 influential TED conference attendees.
The VOID claims nothing less than giving users the ability to “walk into new dimensions and experience worlds without limits…Only limited by imagination, our advanced Virtual-Reality technologies allow you to see, move, and feel our digital worlds in a completely immersive and realistic way.” These are bold claims which understandably raise the eyebrows of many despite reports from some of the 2,000 people, including media and industry veterans, that have been through their beta testing experiences. When I asked James Jensen, Chief Visionary Officer at The Void what TED means to him, he smiles and says; “It’s time the world knows this is real, that everybody’s dreams of what this could be is here and happening right now”.
For the first time, The VOID will be revealing the Rapture headset. As seen in our recent article, the Rapture boasts a 2k per eye resolutions with an astonishing 170 -180 degree field of view utilizing curved screens and custom lenses. Conference attendees will be able to try the headset on themselves.
Those going through the experience will be using separate headsets built specifically for the TED conference using the Rapture form factor with an “off the shelf” hmd. There are many improvements in this build. For starters, the headset now has an adjustable band encircling the user’s head which can be tightened to comfort with a knob on the back, much like a safety hat. The HMD itself is not strapped to the face but rather slides down from above to cover the eyes. This is a great solution not only for comfort but to pop back into reality when needed by grabbing the front of the HMD and sliding it back up over the forehead where it locks back into place. The built in headphones are very comfortable and do a great job in drowning out the real world noises while immersing the user in a high quality soundscape. Microphones are built in so that you can communicate with your partner on the journey.
As a stop gap for their internal RF tracking system still in development, a Leap Motion has been embedded directly into the faceplate to track the hands. James says they have been working directly with the Leap Motion team in making hand capture as robust as possible. Seeing your hands in VR is important not only for feeling present but also for accurately interacting with an environment that requires flipping of switches, pushing panels, carrying virtual items and, in my case during a beta test, grabbing out to save a comrade teetering on the edge of a cliff.
The Rapture Vest is also ready and looks very professional like something SWAT would use. Straps up the front of the torso keep things snug and comfortable. With 2 transducers allowing users to feel the low frequency sounds within the environment, 5 different types of haptic effects and a whopping 22 touchpoints with more on the way, it’s going to keep adventurers highly immersed and on their toes. According to James, the vest is capable of gentle tingle to a painful punch. It was great to walk through a portal and feel the energy vibrate through my torso and when an explosion went off in the test chamber it was downright frightening making me yell out as the shockwave racked my body.
The “backtop”, the computer that drives the experience, continues to evolve and at this point feels lighter than my Sunday newspaper. Completely custom designed it is now running on par with an optimized home setup containing an Nvidia 980 which means that the graphics have been kicked up a notch since the last time I was out. The team is happy that the trade off between weight, size, power and performance is no longer a cause for concern. The demo scene was absolutely gorgeous running smoothly with all the bells and whistles Battery life is now at 1 hour and hot swappable ensuring no power outages during the experience. As soon as James strapped me in I took off sprinting through the warehouse jumping, dodging, and crouching. It felt so free and something that you don’t have to think about while in the experience.
Taking up a large portion of the warehouse is a new stage to support a new experience that has been designed specifically for TED and serves as a foundation over which the virtual world is overlaid. Within its structure lies new secrets and tricks from The VOID’s Chief Creative Officer, Curtis Hickman who is responsible for manipulating our minds to believe that what we are experiencing is real. TED conference goers are in for a real treat as The VOID will be pulling all the stops in taking the experience far beyond what has been seen in their beta tests which has already included ingenious techniques such as redirected walking in which guests believe they are walking straight when actually walking in circles, heaters that give life to fire and vibrating floors simulating elevators in motion. Invisible to all but the active players, even the stage itself will require a trick to access. The new environmental effects to be revealed coupled with advances in the hardware will, according to Curtis and James who chuckle when referencing internal testing, have people screaming with excitement, wonder and fear.