Virtual headset becomes a reality
Strap on the headset and adjust the goggle to your eyes. Look down and you will see the floor of a space station. Look up and pipes weave above your head. Turn left or right and the tight walls of a dark corridor flank your sides. An alien bursts through a door. Pull the trigger and mow it down.
Palmer Luckey cobbled the headset together from spare smartphone parts.
His partner, Brendan Iribe, is rallying the video-game industry to build the games.
The result is an affordable, next-generation headset that eventually will allow players to disappear into virtual worlds.
Virtual reality experiences have been the stuff of dreams for decades, with movies such as The Lawnmower Man, The Matrix and the holodeck on Star Trek: The Next Generation popularising the idea. So far, though, systems to take people to other worlds are expensive and built only for niche uses, such as military training.
Luckey and Iribe, founders of California-based Oculus VR, have raised $US2.4 million (NZ$2.8m) through online crowd funding to build a system that offers a virtual-reality experience to gamers at home.
‘‘It’s the future,’’ Luckey says. ‘‘It’s the matrix.’’
The task facing anyone working on a virtual-reality experience is twofold – create a device inexpensive enough so people will buy it and improve the current state of gaming.
Luckey and Iribe are trying to tackle both problems and look to succeed where others have failed.
Luckey is using low-cost smartphone components to make a headset, called the Rift, that costs hundreds of dollars, rather than thousands.
‘‘A lot of things we’re doing weren’t invented by us,’’ he says.
‘‘They were invented by other people and we happen to have the luck to be in the right decade to make it happen.’’
Luckey is the 20-year-old cofounder of Oculus. A passionate gamer, he is also obsessed with virtual reality.
He also worked for about a year under Mark Bolas, a leading researcher in head-mounted displays at the University of Southern California.
Luckey teamed up with 33-year-old Iribe after doing a demonstration for the gaming executive last northern summer.
They teamed up in August and used Kickstarter to secure US$2.4m in backing.
More than 5600 people on the site, which is used by artists and entrepreneurs to bankroll projects, put up the minimum US$300 to receive early developer versions of the headset.
The Rift kits were due to be shipped in December and January, but the company has postponed the shipping date to March to allow more time to manufacture the gadget. It plans to ship 7500 headsets.
The system impressed executives at influential game companies Id Software, Valve Software, Unity and Epic Games.
Luckey sent John Carmack, a father of modern 3-D gaming and co-founder of Id Software, one of his headsets and he showed off the system at E3, a gaming conference in Los Angeles.
With Carmack’s endorsement, Luckey and his growing Oculus team went off on a whirlwind tour to gaming conferences around the world.
The Oculus strategy is to marry Luckey’s expertise and obsession with VR technology with Iribe’s industry experience.