Live from TED2016

The future of virtual reality will literally spray you in the face

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You are about to enter The Void, a virtual reality experience that debuted at TED2016. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

You are about to enter THE VOID, a virtual reality experience that debuted at TED2016. The goal: to add touch and physical sensation to traditional VR. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

You’re standing on a small platform: Someone snaps you into a heavy vest, and pulls a clunky helmet over your eyes. Before you can adjust to the extra weight, suddenly the world has a strange echo, and all other noise falls away. Your surroundings are now a rumbling Tomb Raider-themed universe, and you are its hero.

You’ve entered THE VOID, a much buzzed-about virtual reality experience shown to the public for the first time today at TED2016. Its creators aim to make a fully interactive virtual reality experience by adding a physical space: As you walk through a designated area, you navigate your experience through touch. A vest with 22 points of haptic contact and a head-mounted display make your world a video game that literally sprays you with water.

Your objective is to make it through a temple filled with fire, through doors before they explode, and past a huge fire-breathing, water-spraying sea serpent. The flames feel hot, and the mist feels wet. Meanwhile you’re being urgently guided by a voice through a labyrinth whose floors move and walls crumble all around you. It’s not for the faint of heart: A glowing sign at the start of the room urges anyone who’s pregnant, has PTSD, or is afraid of spiders, to exercise caution.

The writer gets fitted with gear for the virtual reality experience, The Void. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

The writer gets fitted with gear for the virtual reality experience, THE VOID, and finds herself in a Tomb Raider-like world. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

“We’re making good on the true promise of VR,” says Curtis Hickman, THE VOID’s Chief Creative Officer and cofounder. “When people first heard about virtual reality, I think they imagined stepping into a new world. But what they were given in the end was a headset: ‘Here, sit at your computer, put this headset on, move around with your keyboard.’ For true virtual you need to have all your senses involved.”

The line to go through the experience is out the door—that’s because the 30-by-30-foot space is transformed into a rather cinematic, downright trippy fun time. Frightened screams from inside the space are audible from the hallway.

The preview for “The Curse of the Serpent’s Eye” is a teaser for future VOID experience centers, the first of which is coming this fall to Utah.

TED2016 - Dream, February 15-19, 2016, Vancouver Convention Center, Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

The writer (left) gets lost in THE VOID. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED