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Jul 25 2017

Getting real - adrenaline-pumping real - with Virtual Reality

Twitter: @lshannon45

I just spent a three-day weekend in New York city with my children, and the most surprising part of the visit was that the two most memorable moments on the whole trip weren’t “real” at all – they were both virtual.

I can’t believe I’m writing this in a corporate blog, but the first thing I want to tell you about is the Ghostbusters Virtual Reality Experience in Madame Tussaud’s on Times Square.  Really.  It was – so much FUN.  And hands-down the most impressive commercial VR experience I’ve seen.

My sons and I all donned vests and VR helmets and proceeded through a series of rooms, re-enacting scenes from the original Ghostbusters movie.  We were actually moving through real rooms which were utterly bare (I peeked), so we could physically open doors and touch walls, but what we saw was entirely rendered within our headsets.  When we looked at each other, we saw avatars dressed in Ghostbusters jump suits, and we physically carried light wooden nonfunctional “blasters,” which became massive glowing Ghostbusters-style laser weapons that shot spectacular squiggly plasma streams in the virtual world.  The VR version of the rooms was richly decorated and we could shoot everything up with the blasters and see the resulting devastation (my sons loved it), and of course we ran into a lot of ghosts and needed to cooperate to defeat them.  (Spoiler alert:  The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man was involved.)

But that was just what we saw and what we did.  The real headline here is how it felt.  It felt – real.  Really real.  Adrenaline-pumping, sweat-beading, “LOOK-OUT-there’s-one-right-behind-you!!!” real.  It helped that our vests buzzed a bit if we accidentally shot each other, but all the rest of the feeling that we were teetering on the edge of a collapsing skyscraper (sorry, another spoiler) was entirely created by the utterly absorbing visual world displayed in our VR headset.  I went in there because my kids thought it would be fun, and I came out a fervent convert to the future power of Virtual Reality.  This thing is going to be HUGE.

And then there was the second almost-VR experience of the weekend, again an unexpected pleasure from a surprising source.  It was in the tourist elevator up to the Observatory at the top of One World Trade Center, the new skyscraper that has been built next to Ground Zero.  As you ascend to the 102nd floor, all three walls of the lift show a video that makes it seem as though you’re looking out over the city of New York as you ascend.  The catch is that the video starts in the year 1500, and as you fly upwards, the years rapidly advance until you come to 2015 and see the One World tower being constructed around you.  For a lover of history and especially New York history, it was a gem, a delight, and left all of us in the elevator with an even bigger “wow” than the subsequent view actually did.

Both of these experiences had high entertainment value, but they’re also important.  These are the early examples of the kinds of immersive realities that are going to become ubiquitous in the next decades and that are going to serve so many more purposes than mere leisure fun.  Collaborating with distant colleagues, training in just about anything, “taking you back in time” historical reconstructions, interacting with games and movies, designing buildings, participating in government – all of these activities and many more have the potential to be reimagined and improved exponentially beyond today’s experience with VR technology.

But the first step in understanding the potential of VR and planning what to do with it is to experience it yourself.  So I for one am looking forward to the immersive experiences that Disney will create around this December’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi as part of their partnership with Nokia and our OZO 360-degree camera.  And while that’s cool on its own, that’s just the tip of the OZO iceberg – we’ve also already produced several amazing pieces that immerses fans in different environments from Pete’s Dragon to Kids to Argos to Coachella and more. At Nokia, we envision VR completely transforming how people experience the world, and see OZO as the standard bearer of what’s possible in immersive VR/Mixed Reality experiences that transcend borders, traverse time and enable rich interactions that allow us to feel more together.

But those are just words.  And if a picture is worth a thousand words, a full-on VR experience must be worth at least a million.  So if you haven’t done it yet, I encourage you to experience any kind of commercial VR that you come across – it’s much easier to imagine the potential of this powerful technology once you’ve been there yourself.  Wherever “there” happens to be!

Visit our website to learn how Nokia is pioneering transformative experiences with virtual reality technology

Share your thoughts on this topic by replying below – or join the Twitter discussion with @NokiaVR and @Nokia using #VR #OZO

About Leslie Shannon

Leslie heads up Ecosystem and Trend Scouting, Corporate Strategy. Based in Silicon Valley, she’s on the lookout for all the ways that new thinking and tech are going to disrupt and enhance our world.