For more than a year now, Swiss artist and inventor Max Rheiner has been literally flying around the world, inviting others to virtually fly around the world.
Rheiner is the one of the creators of the unique virtual reality experience called Birdly, which occupies a notional space somewhere between art, technology and dreams. Birdly is a full-body VR flight simulator designed to let users experience, in wakefulness, the universal dream of flying.
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It works like this: Users put on a VR headset and climb face-down onto a motion platform table, with arms outstretched like a bird in flight. Force-feedback platforms under the hands and arms act as wings, letting users control their flight but also experience simulated wind resistance. A front-mounted fan blows air at the appropriate angle, further reinforcing the haptic illusion of flight.
Meanwhile, inside the VR headset, visual feedback is provided by hyperdetailed, high-resolution 3-D video. You might be flying over New York, or San Francisco, or an African desert. Visual and aural cues are precisely linked to the motion platform table. Bank to the left, and your body banks as well. Swoop into a dive and the table leans forward.
The effect is similar to arcade-style VR rides, except that the user is fully in control of the flight. But also, by all accounts, Birdly provides a whole new level of coordinated VR precision. The experience has been designed from the ground up, as it were, to be intuitive and effortless - to feel like flying in a dream.
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Rheiner and his team have already built up an enormous amount of interest with Birdly, which began as a design research project at the Zurich University of the Arts in Switzerland. The team has been touring around the world ever since, presenting Birdly at high-profile art spaces, film festivals and tech conferences.
Plans are in the works to manufacture and sell Birdly as a commercial device - no word yet on pricing - and also to develop potential therapeutic and medical applications. Pretty fly.