Although I’ll probably be accused of being late to the party, I decided to go ahead with this week’s post for several reasons. First, I had already begun working on it last Tuesday when, Mark, one of my Sabre Labs colleagues, showed me the message that had just popped up on his phone — Facebook acquiring Oculus VR, a start-up focused on state-of-the-art virtual reality technology. Second, I’m convinced that virtual reality (VR) is finally reaching a tipping point, one that will see it expand far beyond gaming. And finally, I noticed that there was not much of a reaction among those who write about travel and travel technology, both prime targets for disruption and transformation by VR.
The first time I ever thought about virtual reality was when I went to see the Disney movie, Tron, in 1982. In the movie, characters were transported inside the software of a computer. The special effects were laughable by today’s standards and only my most techie friends really understood the movie. Virtual reality — not just more modern movies’ depictions of it — has entered an entirely new phase, though, with technology like the Oculus Rift headset.
With Oculus Rift, you can share what Mark Zuckerberg referred to as ‘unbounded’ experiences with others, feeling as though you’re actually present with them in a computer generated, but seemingly real, place and time. It could be in a game but it could also be in a next generation TV show or movie. It could even be on a trip — seated next to them in first class seats on a flight to London, enjoying the view of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak, climbing Australia’s Sydney Harbour Bridge, or taking a drive down the Amalfi Coast in Italy. The coming ability to take your interaction with friends to that level of presence, regardless of your physical location, is what Facebook is acquiring and beginning to plan around.
What will make all of this possible? More than anything, it’s the platform that Oculus VR has created. The Oculus Software Developer Kit (SDK) provides source code, documentation, and samples that allow developers with the right skills to deliver new content and experiences to consumers. Immersive gaming is the starting point but that will simply scratch the surface of the possibilities.
As gamers can attest, virtual travel won’t be limited to real destinations (at least not ones limited to this planet or even this solar system!). As a lover of travel, I’ll continue to look forward to every new, real trip to both familiar places and those I’ve only dreamed of visiting. I’m also fairly confident, though, that I’ll someday be making the decision on where to go next based on the experience of having already been there – virtually.