VR Roller Coaster, Flavor of the Month

Kristen Clark reports at IEEE Spectrum that “virtual reality roller coasters are having a moment”.  The maturation of VR headsets and related tech has opened the door to adding VR 3D visuals to conventional Roller Coaster amusement rides.

This would seem to be combining two notorious nausea-inducing technologies, which might be much worse than either independently. In fact, the designers believe that combining the two actually reduces the problem. Specifically, the idea is that if you can very precisely match the motion and visuals, you eliminate the cue conflict between vestibular and ocular cues to the brain. This requires very precise synchronization, matching the visual projections to the rapidly and unpredictably moving body and head.

Roller coasters are a favorable environment to do this, however. The path of the car is always the same, and the rider is strapped in, so much of the motion is predictable. The car also provides a harness for precise motion tracking of the person’s free moving head, and for delivering video rapidly. For example the car can carry significant batteries, and the headset can be tethered.

I’m not totally convinced that this technology will entirely eliminate motion sickness—there is a lot of individual variability and even situational variability in these effects.  Some people probably will still have trouble. The VR designers also consider that the feeling of presence, the absorption in the visual world is important. “Presence”, too, is highly variable among different people. So I would expect that some people will still have problems. (If nothing else, what happens if I close my eyes during the ride?)

But when it works, how significant is VR for a Roller Coaster? Certainly it is great to be able to create the scenery digitally. This opens great possibilities for the designer, and is way cheaper to change than physical props.

The digital visuals can portray any storybook world that can be realized, divorced from constraints of time and space. And the graphics in conjunction with high G motion can trick the eye (and ear?), potentially creating illusions of weightlessness, great speed, and falling from heights. I would imagine that a compelling experience could elongate time perception as well.

On the other hand, my limited experience with Roller Coasters was mainly all about the motion, not the visuals. In fact, I tend to close my eyes to concentrate on the flying, ignoring the (known to be fake) visuals. So would the VR do any thing for me? I don’t know.

In fact, Clark noticed the same thing, when she repeated the ride without the VR effects.

Rather than a tunnel to the stars, I was staring facedown at a pavement littered with dead brown leaves, until…suddenly, I was flying—swooping down into close calls with the ground below, hurtling up into barrel rolls, darting through real trees, and feeling the wind in my hair. My body went limp in exhilarated, childlike joy.”

Perhaps, she says, “a coaster as physically thrilling as Galactica might have been more thrilling if it had just been left alone.” And here she hones in on a crucial point: “if it’s presence you’re after, it may turn out to be surprisingly difficult to beat the old-fashioned method. It’s called being present.

Clearly VR RC’s (“VRoller Coasters”?)are the flavor of the month. We shall see what can be done with them, and how long they last.

Occulus is Evil

Speaking of the flavor of the month, the Occulus Rift is rolling out to huge fanfare. Occulus and similar headsets are reimplementations of standard old VR technology, which was cool in 1997, and is just as cool (and way lighter and cheaper) now.

One new feature that has been added, though, is the absurdly arrogant license agreements. I don’t have an Occulus and have not examined the Terms and Conditions in detail, but Andrew Liptak reports at Gizmodo that “There Are Some Super Shady Things in Oculus Rift’s Terms of Service”.

Actually, the “news” isn’t especially surprising or especially “shady”, they are similar to Facebook and others’ nonsense.  This is pretty common stuff these days.

Specifically, Libtak reports that Occulus basically asserts complete rights to do anything they want with any “content” you produce: i.e., every thing you do with your Occulus effectively belongs to Facebook.  Your behavior is tracked and sold off, and anything you create can be stolen and sold off.

Such a deal!

Aside from the awe-inspiring arrogance of this approach, it is utterly bone-headedly stupid and short sighted. How can I use this technology, explore this technology, invent new uses of this technology, under such a license? I can’t.  Forget it.

Clearly, Occulus has been captured by Hollywood, and is utterly clueless about technology and how to make money.

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