Is the future of VR underwater?

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Is the future of virtual reality hidden in underwater applications?
Image: Ballast VR

Virtual reality (VR) is one of the most exciting technologies out there today. With applications for video games, manufacturing, and entertainment, it has the potential to revolutionize the way that humanity interacts with tech. However, tricking the mind into seeing something that isn’t real is harder than convincing it to feel something that isn’t there.

Users enjoying VR experiences that involve flying or swimming, for instance, don’t have the benefit of feeling weightless. That is, unless the VR experience is taking place underwater. A novel exhibition at the most recent Sundance Film Festival gave attendees a glimpse at what the future of VR may look like. Indeed, by combining the immersive technology with a float pool, simulated experiences become far more realistic.

Swimming in Fiction

Most Sundance attendees probably weren’t planning on bringing a bathing suit to the iconic movie festival. Yet, they needed one experience a norm-defying exhibition from multidisciplinary artist Pierre “Pyaré” Friquet. It stole the show, giving people a chance to see how immersive VR can be when used underwater.

His experience, titled “Spaced Out,” took visitors through a virtual transport to the moon. It combines abstract imagery of Friquet’s own creation with footage and audio from the archives of the Apollo 11 mission.

Meanwhile, users relax weightlessly in a pool attached to a flotation belt. Although that situation doesn’t fully recreate the experience of zero gravity it’s enough to trick the mind into thinking it does. The concept expands on the mind tricks that VR already uses, putting users into a trance-like state that makes them forget they are in the real world.

CNET senior reporter Joan Solsman, who got to experience the “Spaced Out” VR trip firsthand said, “It was the closest I’ve felt to floating in another world.”

What makes the underwater VR experience possible is a special headset called Divr. It comes from Ballast VR, an aquatic-focused VR company. The headset includes a built-in snorkel to let users breathe underwater while they view a simulation.

VR Goes Under(water)

“Spaced Out” was a cool experiment at a niche film festival. However, it opened the door for so much more. Virtual reality is the future of immersive technology. By using water to make the virtual even more realistic, the technology will have new opportunities to impress users.

Ballast VR is currently working on other water-based VR projects. For one, it is pushing a VR waterslide experience to waterparks around the United States. Meanwhile, its deep dive simulation features a jet-assisted underwater ride.

Oddly enough, researchers have found another unique benefit to using VR while underwater. It seems that utilizing the technology while floating doesn’t give people the same motion-sickness side effects that many feel while using VR on land. According to Ballast VR’s co-founder, Ando Shah, even the queasiest users didn’t experience symptoms when using a Divr headset.

Due to the potential of this combination, it probably won’t be long until other manufacturers enter the water-based VR space. While VR headsets will always be used predominantly on land, they could be increasingly used underwater in the future—especially for entertainment purposes.

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