Since the dawn of the computer, it has been a cultural dream to plug our brains into these machines and explore vast cyber worlds. From William Gibson’s Neuromancer to movies such as Tron and The Matrix, it has been popular entertainment to showcase virtual reality (VR) worlds that anyone and everyone can tap into. Modern video games accomplish half of the battle with lush worlds and artificial inhabitants, but these are really only accessible through a screen and the click of controller buttons. Innovative technologies such as the Nintendo Wii and the Xbox Kinect have done a decent job at transferring the power of controllers to the human body, but the fact that you are staring at a stationary display remains. This is where a new device called the Oculus Rift (@Oculus3D) steps in, bringing with it the first step towards VR.
The Oculus Rift is a head-mounted display that is constructed to simulate human perspective in a 3D world. Through an innovative design that physically separates the view of your two eyes and uses lenses to warp the imagery, you are given a 3D view with depth and distortion similar to that of natural eyesight. On top of that, motion sensors in the box track the rotation of your head, translating the real world movement into 3D camera changes. All of this is built into a relatively light black box that blocks all outside light and does a good job of making you feel like you are truly in the virtual world. On its own, this makes for an interesting alternative to a traditional monitor or TV, but leaves much of the control in the palms of your hands. Couple this with other emerging VR devices and things evolve. One such device is the Omni, a multi-directional “treadmill” device for VR movement in games.
The Omni is a working prototype, created by Virtuix (@VirtuixOmni), for an omni-directional treadmill (hence the name!). Its design consists of a concave sensor pad on the ground and a torso restraint up top. The “treadmill” is a slick sensor plate that detects the unique shoes that you are supposed to wear. The shoes are low friction and have sensors built into the soles for detection. The low friction allows you to step forward and slide your foot down the concave lip of the plate, simulating a stepping motion. The intuitive design allows for easy walking and running, which then translates directly into movement within the 3D environment (one of the biggest uses for controllers in video games). Combined with the Oculus Rift, magic truly happens. With the visual simulation of the Oculus and the movement translation of the Omni, you can walk in any direction while simultaneously looking all around you. This creates a fairly accurate representation of human movement in 3D space!
The possibilities of this combined VR experience are mind-boggling. While these devices are being marketed for video game use, this could easily be expanded into the commercial space. The Oculus is already supported in many game engines, which allows for the possibility of building 3D environments for the sole purpose of exploration of a world or a more singular experience based around a product or a brand. If the Oculus and Omni are taken into account from the beginning, the entire experience can be built around the concepts of depth and freedom of vision and movement.
Imagine, if you will, a candy shop world filled with giant cookies and lollipops, where consumers can walk around and see all of their favorite treats being artistically created right in front of them. What if stores crafted mini-landscapes like this that could make their products beautiful and appealing, allowing the customer to see everything they offer up close and personal, as well as buy them from this world? What about virtual storefronts that would allow companies who have no physical products to present their offerings to customers in an interesting and appealing fashion? Picture it as something like the futuristic stores in the Progressive commercials, except created in 3D and accessible to anyone with the right devices.
These ideas have been thought about before, and they have been traditionally hard to implement correctly (just look at Second Life or PlayStation Home for easy examples). That said, these worlds could be fascinating with such promising technology within our reach. Immersive gadgets such as the Oculus and Omni are new products that are still trying to prove their worth, but as such devices grow and become more ubiquitous, these ideas might not be so crazy.
Ever notice how random things look like they have faces? Like this:
There are a few Tumblr blogs that pay homage to these occurrences of anthropomorphism and now that I’ve pointed it out, you’ll probably start noticing these faces everywhere. You’re welcome.
Jumping on this micro-trend, Nike just released an app for Nike Free shoes in Japan called Nike Free Face, where users can bend and twist the Nike shoe to match their face. Leveraging facial and expression recognition technology, it photographs the users’ contorted face through a webcam and matches their face to the shoe’s form.
The app does an amazing job of highlighting features of the products—the flexibility of the shoe and the ability to personalize it—in a subtle and engaging way. On top of showcasing product features, the app gets people thinking about the shoe differently, positioning them not only as a utility product, but also as an expression of self.
These kinds of interactive opportunities that present products through a different lens are a clever approach for legacy brands like Nike to ensure they stay relevant and fresh. But more importantly, Nike’s Free Face app is fun, silly and shows that the brand doesn’t take itself too seriously. Allowing consumers to play with a product and have fun with it are the kind of online experiences that people remember and talk about.
Just think, when was the last time you had this much fun with a shoe?