Monday, November 9, 2015

Using VR (and OSVR) in roller coaster rides and other out-of-home applications

Ubisoft Rabbids demo at E3 2015
We've seen a lot of interest in using virtual reality for theme park and other "out of home" applications. To me, this interest is very justified. Virtual reality allows creating new types of experiences. It is much cheaper for an operator of a roller coaster, for instance, to have visitors use VR to upgrade a ride as opposed to building an entire new track. VR allows changing the experience from ride to ride as well as to modulate the intensity of the experience.

Similarly, the notion of a VR cafe has also been raised. Just like in the 1990's when high-speed Internet access was not prevalent, a VR cafe would allow casual VR users to experience gaming VR without having to purchase a VR headset and a high-performance computer for home use.

There are several common requirements to all these use cases:

  • VR goggles need to be rugged enough to withstand heavy use, accidental drops or the occasional teenager that tries to take it apart.
  • Nearly-universal fit is needed so that little or no adjustment is required for a good VR experience. Some attractions will have an operator that can offer some assistance, but maintaining the throughput of an attraction is an important requirements.
  • Need to be able to quickly clean and sanitize goggles between users. This might use a disposable face mask, or a way to quickly wipe down the headset.

In additional, some applications also require:

  • Integration of the VR goggles into an existing frame (e.g. racing helmet for a racing simulator)
  • Cable management
  • Integration of other peripherals such a multi-person position tracking

Consumer VR headsets are not immediately suitable for these applications, though can definitely be used to prototype the initial design. On the other hand, building a completely new HMD and then creating a high-performance rendering infrastructure for it is also an expensive and time-consuming endeavor.

What to do? One option is to use OSVR for either the hardware and/or software portions of this effort.

Because OSVR hardware is open-source and designed to be hacked and changed, it is possible to take existing OSVR components - for instance the display, electronics and optics - and then package them as required to address the particular needs of the attraction.

Similarly, the OSVR software framework provides high-performance rendering and plugins for many game engines across a wide variety of operating systems, HMDs and peripherals. OSVR can also be extended to new types of HMDs if custom hardware is created.

My company can also help with creating semi-custom designs primarily based on pre-existing building blocks and with optimizing a software infrastructure to support a particular set of hardware peripherals

On a personal note, I had a chance to try a pre-production version of the VR ride at Europapark in Germany and it was quite an experience. During my visit, I tried the same ride twice: once with a track being shown in the virtual world (giving some hint of what turn or roll will happen next) and the other without it (making me feel like a pinball in space).

Out-of-home VR is becoming possible and cost effective, and that's an exciting development both for theme park owners as well as for showcasing VR to the public.

I'll be at the IAAPA show later this month in Orlando. If you want to meet and discuss some opportunities, drop me a note.