Vir­tual head­set be­comes a re­al­ity

The Press - The Box - - FRONT PAGE - Ian Hamil­ton MCT

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.

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