3 cool virtual-reality projects from Oculus Rift and Sony's Project Morpheus

These future-tech concepts will take gaming beyond the controller

Published: June 30, 2014 04:00 PM
Sony's Project Morpheus virtual-reality headset
Photo: Sony

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Oculus Rift’s $2 billion purchase by Facebook made it clear that the social networking giant was betting big on virtual reality, or VR. This technology immerses the user in a digital world through a headset that tracks a user’s head movements. Also in March, Sony, the maker of the PlayStation 4, announced Project Morpheus, a VR headset that the company hopes will unlock new possibilities for gamers to interact with virtual environments.

While both headsets are currently not yet available for consumers (although the Oculus Rift may be ordered as a developer kit for $350), there have been some interesting attempts to showcase the possibilities these two hold for gaming and simulation enthusiasts. Here are three of the most promising projects we found.

Bird simulator

Designed by students at the Zurich University of the Arts, Birdly is a virtual reality simulation that gives players the ability to take to the skies in the form of a red kite, a bird of prey. Using the Oculus Rift headset and a pneumatic plank, the players may “flap” their wings to gain altitude and move their heads to get a bird’s eye view of the landscapes below.

To make the virtual flight even more realistic, a fan is placed in front of the player to provide the feel of air streams, and flying over different locations releases various scents. 

Jimmy Fallon plays The Castle
Photo: NBC

Hack and slash

Revealed at the Game Developers Conference in March, Project Morpheus emphasizes the player’s immersion in games by using accessories that enable enhanced interactivity, such as the PlayStation Move controller.

“We’ve discovered that the more you integrate the analogy of your body in the game,” said Andrew Kelly, a Public Relations Manager for Sony, “the better it feels, and the easier it is for your brain to get used to the virtual world.”

One demo of Project Morpheus, The Castle, allows players to to grab a sword with the Move controller, which responds naturally to swinging, rotating, and stabbing motions.  

Photo: Virtuix Omni

Running in place

Whereas virtual-reality headsets allow you to escape the square dimensions of a screen, Virtuix Omni's omnidirectional treadmill liberates you from the couch. The Virtuix Omni is a recessed, octagon shaped platform that allows players to run, walk, and navigate around digital environments, all while staying in place.

Used in conjunction with the Oculus Rift, the treadmill uses a combination of a harness and special shoes to prevent players from running into walls. The company is expected to begin shipping the accessory in September for $499, or about $150 more than the Oculus Rift development kit. 

—Karim Lahlou

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