VRLEO is a company based in Los Angles and Shanghai that’s looking to shake up the out-of-home VR scene with its arcade kiosks. At CES this week we got a chance to go hands on with the company’s flagship product, the LEO cabinet system, which includes a few novel technologies that aim to give it an edge over the competition.

These sorts of VR kiosk systems aren’t exactly new in principle; we’ve seen VR arcade cabinets as early as 2018 promising ‘fully-automated’ VR experiences, be it pop-ups in airports worldwide or dedicated Beat Saber machines. The problem is that these units are rarely truly self-serviced machines—average users who’ve never used VR before simply don’t know what to expect, and the onboarding process and cleaning is usually done by a human attendant. Granted, a single attendant can wrangle a number of devices, but a true self-service VR machine that everyone intuitively understands (and can’t inadvertently destroy) is still on the horizon.

Photo captured by Road to VR

To some extent that also goes for LEO too despite it being marketed as an entirely self-service machine. Its clear however that the company is thinking hard about how to offer a system that you might leave unattended to the mercy of your bog standard mall rat, and it’s approaching that with some interesting techniques we haven’t seen in similar kiosks. Currently operating machines in China, Vietnam, and the US, the company says that the kiosk is already present in arcades, malls and even a subway station in Shanghai. Although that sounds pretty strange from a Western perspective, Shanghai’s subway system has gads of single-serving karaoke machines and other such confangled devices that may otherwise be summarily abused in somewhere like New York, Washington DC, or Philadelphia.

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Based on a Windows VR headset from Lenovo, the system has a novel retraction system  that brings the headset up to an overhead housing stocked with powerful UV lights, something founder and CEO Patty Lui says takes under 30 seconds to sterilize the headset entirely. A sort of clamping overhead headstrap is a clever one-size-fits-all solution, something which was not only born out of convenience of not having to tighten a strap system, but also to avoid messing up a user’s finely quaffed hair. That said, I wouldn’t want to use it for longer sessions as it doesn’t clamp down nearly tight enough for a truly secure fit.

 

Another unique innovation: the sides of the cabinet are actually magnetic, something Lui says still needs to be tweaked so users can intuit where to put the return the controllers after the session is over. A custom controller housing contains magnets for storage and a large cage and rubber grip that protects it from the inevitable wear and tear of a public device.

You’ll notice in the photo below that the controller’s thumbstick is deactivated with a thick plastic cover, reducing it to its trigger, thumbpad, grip buttons and home button. Neither of the games I played used anything but the trigger, which made it feel more like a glorified lightgun—a sensible move to make VR sessions quick and easy for people who may be otherwise overwhelmed.

The company provides five arcade-style games which were developed in-house, although VRLEO has a scheme whereby third-party developers can sell slimmed-down arcade versions of popular games such as Beat Saber, which vendors can buy for a one-time licensing fee. A cloud-based content management system can be controlled via smartphone over the Internet, which includes full hardware diagnostics, remote game library management, and full up to date specs on how much a vendor is earning.

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A large touchscreen lets you select games, which also provides a brief description and a few quick on-screen instructions before you start to help you figure out how to operate the whole thing. That’s a lot of kit, although it will cost you. VRLEO is selling its kiosk for $28,800 for a single unit, and going down to $18,000 at its cheapest when purchased in a bulk of 40.

Although LEO had a few hiccups, like having to blindly replace the controllers by myself when the game was finished, my reservations about self-sufficiency inevitably lie not in LEO, but rather in the lowest common denominator of its prospective user. Having seen any Nintendo Switch demo station at Walmart ought to give anyone pause about what the true fate of an unattended VR system: scratched lenses, greasy facial interfaces, twisted and frayed cables. Surely such a system would need someone to make sure it’s in good working order on a regular basis. It raises the question: will there ever be a truly public VR kiosk like you might see in those nearly indestructible arcade lightgun games of years past, many of which still function today thanks to their purpose-built robustness? I really can’t say, but it seems VRLEO is trying its hardest to get very close.

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  • Nick Wallace

    Anyone who tries to sell you an “Attendant-less VR Kiosk” should be scoffed at and walked away from, especially at this price point!

    There are a bunch of red flags here
    1. Facing the user towards the screen is asking for it to be smashed or the controller to be smashed, don’t go believing this cages around the controllers will really protect them!
    2. That overhead bin is too low, needs to be at least another foot higher, someone will swing for the rafters eventually and smack it
    3. The cable which doesn’t retract and become taut during usage?! it’s an invitation for someone to catch on it and at best get caught up in it or at worst rip it out
    4. Controllers are tethered to the machine for security but this tether will get all tangled by people during playtime
    5. There don’t appear to be any wrist straps on the controllers?! Did we not learn already from the Nintendo Wii?
    6. Even if there were wrist straps, no one wears them!
    7. As already mentioned the screens, they’ll become fogged up and people probably won’t know to wipe them off between uses so they’ll just go away feeling like it was a crappy experience
    8. Yes you can UV Light to sterilise the headset, but that foam cushion is going to be DRENCHED
    9. If it’s pleather to stop it getting drenched you can expect sweat from longer sessions to get inside the headset itself and I’m willing to bet the UV won’t get into those spots
    10. I could go on…

    It’s clear that whoever designed these did so with the right intentions but no clue about how people use VR.

    • True story

    • benz145

      All very good points, user-testing is key!

      That said, the founder of the company repeatedly dropped the controller from head-height to show off its durability; the cages do seem to provide a surprising amount of protection. No idea if the screen is properly durable, but it at least seems like they were thinking about durability.

      I agree they should be facing the other direction, but primarily so the tracking doesn’t have to deal with the movement, light, and reflections from the screen. Or they could integrate some active or passive markers into the cabinet to help it out.

      • Nelia

        After five years I decided I would drop my previous work and it totally changed my everyday life… I started off doing a task on-line, for a company I located on the internet, for some hours regularly, and I earn more than I has been doing on my old job… Previous pay-check I acquired was Nine thousand bucks… Incredible thing regarding this is the fact I get more time for my friends and family. Try it, what it’s all about… cut.sx/auP/

  • I had a nightmare. I’m struggling to take the headset off while my friends talk to me. And I’m talking about the experience I just had in VR. Then some automated timeout happens, and the kiosk swiftly hangs me with the straps tangled around my neck. As I suffocate the blue cleaning light sunburns my ears.

    Now I really don’t want to try this kiosk out.

  • Sounds good, doesn’t work. Probably to have unattended kiosk, we need robotic attendants