7 years, 6 months ago
#MakerMonday with Joe Ryan
With virtual reality becoming better, cheaper and more available, what will we sit on while we immerse ourselves in fantasy? We caught up with creator of VRGO - the virtual reality chair, to find out more.
With a background in design, Joe created the chair when he became tired of how constricting regular chairs are when you’re hooked up to your headset and gaming. VRGO is designed to allow you to navigate in virtual reality by tilting, twisting and moving your body as you traverse virtual worlds. Soon after finishing his successful Kickstarter campaign, we spoke to Joe about the future of VR, how VRGO works and why we need a connected chair to game.
Q: Tell us about your background and what you did before VRGO?
A: l studied illustration at degree level, but that was a long time ago. The plan was to eventually get into game development but I started working in publishing, I still wanted to make games and I ended up making street games. After doing that for a bit, I decided I wanted to do an MA in design to explore developing apps in gaming. At the interview, they asked me if I had any objects I was making, which threw me as I was focussing on apps, but there was actually a piece of furniture that I’d made in my spare time, which was like a chair that's inspired by a weeble toy. The interviewers really liked the idea and throughout the rest of the interview we had a really interesting conversation around applying my knowledge of app design, game design to the physical. Off the back of that interview, I thought actually this is a really interesting idea and doing an academic course will probably just slow me down, so weirdly, it inspired me to try and create a product instead of doing the MA. That’s what led me to create VRGO. It was around the same time that the Oculus Rift had come into the gaming sphere and I thought that maybe I could use the chair as a controller in VR. I didn't really know that movement in VR was actually this big problem, but it is and it’s been a problem for quite a long time.
Q: And so VRGO was born. Can you explain exactly what VRGO is and how it works?
A: VRGO is a chair that’s a movement controller, it's an input device for VR. It's hands free, which means you can use your hands for bringing your hands into the virtual space, or you can use secondary input such as a gun controller. So the idea being that if you tilt from the chair, for example tilt forward in the chair you'll start walking forward in the virtual space, if you lean to the left you'll move left. It's very intuitive and people pick it up within seconds of using it and so it's a way of moving around VR. Having an actual, physical input, actually having to lean forwards is that input, which is very important because if you're just sitting on your couch with a joypad, it removes you from feeling you're actually in that virtual environment. In the same way in real life it’d be weird to control your movements with a joypad, joystick; physical movement is necessary to have that kind of sensory information that your brain requires to think right, you're actually moving. Obviously, you're not walking around, but the only alternative is quite a large piece of equipment and so the VRGO is a convenient, compact option that wouldn't look out of place in most people's home. It’s also got a sensor module that's held at the front and you charge it to a micro USB, it actually lasts about five hours of game play.
Q: You’ve been in Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol for just over a year working on different iterations, could you tell us a bit about your processes?
A: We’ve had three iterations since the first VRGO, at the beginning it looked like an egg with the top sliced off and then we wanted more control. It's got more of a saddle like peak on it now. Then the actual base, we’ve changed the roundness a few times so it’s not too wobbly, but we didn't want it too flat because then it's harder to actually start moving. There's a fine balance there and as far as finding the sweet spot for most people, that has been quite a challenge because different people find it easier to engage with the chair than other people.
Q: Has anybody ever fallen off?
A: No! Some people have almost fallen off, but no one's actually fallen off, touch wood.
Q: What about manufacturing, how do you make the VRGO?
A: It’s a maker object really, it's all been pretty much handmade, it was CNC cut out of MDF, seventeen concentric circles of different widths all glued together and then hand sanded, which was an absolute pain. Then the mould is made out of vinylester, a very strong material that lasts around 1,000 goes. We use a method called vacuum infusion, which effectively sucks the resin to the fibreglass through into bags, it's vacuum sealed into the actual mould. This way it creates a very thin product, it's only about 1.5mm thick, and it's very light. So fibreglass is one of the strongest materials for its weight. It's a bit smelly and quite a long process, so we probably will change over time.
Q: Thinking more broadly about VR, you mentioned earlier about people being able to see their hands in VR, like with Orion Beta, how close do you think we are to total immersion for the average consumer?
A: I’m quite interested in full autonomy, move wherever you want, which is how I’ve always played games, so if you want to run 100m you don't have to be restricted by any space. I think as far as putting your entire body into the virtual space, that's still quite a long way off, unless there's some new innovation where you can have full movement. As far as hands go, there are a few things like haptic gloves that can give you feedback when you touch things, which is quite an interesting concept.
Q: VR is already established as a gaming tool, but with the first VR TV show coming out, we're going from viewers to participants here too, do you have any thoughts about how VR is going to impact different industries, like television and film?
A: Gaming is just one area of VR. It suits, current VR headsets instantly, but I think there are lots of different user cases for VR. Social VR has been massive, that's why Facebook bought Oculus. Engaging with other people, it's a very compelling thing, once you've experienced it. My thoughts on VR for film is that they are trying to squeeze the industry into something that's not necessarily suited to it. It's got limitations for narrative, having it in 360. There are ways you can tell a story in 360 but I think it raises a lot of design problems. Although Oculus have got their own film film studio so time will tell. I’m sure they’ll have some pretty amazing content.
Q: So do you think that in the future of VR, we're going to be able to experience it more together, we're going to be able to see each other and interact with each other?
A: Yes, absolutely. Oculus supports video, people playing in the sandbox environment. I haven't experienced it but it looks like it would be really good fun and there's no reason why we can't have other people in the virtual space. I think social VR is going to be massive. It'll be a whole space and people don't really appreciate how big it's going to be.
Q: Have you got any plans with VRGO, making it social? Like a sofa VRGO...
A: We're just trying to make a product that has universal appeal, from the very start we didn't want any barriers to developers. As long as it can be used with whatever headsets are out there, then yes, I think movement is always going to be required.
Q: You could have multiple people in a room, sitting on a VRGO and they're not necessarily going to hurt each other or fall off.
A: Yes, that's a whole other area of VR, like arcades. I think arcades might come back. I think people who don't really want to fork out the £1,500 for a decent VR setup, might be interested in a VR experience. Like silent discos, people are quite up for new experiences. There's a company called The Void, who’ve already opened a couple of VR arcades and merges real life with VR kind of like a virtual reality amusement park.
Q: What's the most exciting thing to you personally about the possibilities with VR?
A: I think Virtual reality has the potential to change the world, there’s no other medium that can create empathy in the same way.