It all started when a local meetup called OCVR
began asking what type of theme their next VR coding session should be. With a resounding majority vote, horror was selected sparking 30+ eager developers to flood into a co-working area named PeopleSpace
for a weekend of 3D programming and modelling.
When everyone got settled, after drinking handfuls of coffee, and eating breakfast, ideas of horror were pitched by individuals to the welcoming crowd of wired onlookers. Sixteen murderous scenes were shared, all of which were whittled down to about seven scary experiences. Among the top selections included a room where the user is trapped inside with a flesh-hungry zombie, a free-fall of death jumping down into a city below, and a burning building through which no one can escape.
But, then out of the strung-out haze accompanied with a lack of sleep, a crazy thought is hatched. "What if we rig an Arduino circuit to an Occulus Rift and send an electrical current through some relays shocking the person who sits in this chair?" asked a nearby hacker.
And, so the work began. A quick stop to a nearby prototyping lab called Oval Integration
produced the necessary switch with two wire connectors, red and black, that when turned on would surge a nasty shock to the user. A breadboard, a couple of relays, two gag-gum shocking packets, and a 9-volt battery was then strapped to an ordinary office chair. The Arduino and larger components were stuffed into an oatmeal box taping it all together on the back of the swivel seating contraption of horror.
As the hackathon continued, the intensity increased to a level of deranged madness circling the co-working environment like a dangerous tornado leaving behind empty bags of chips and drained Monster energy drinks. Soon the Occulus Rift would be strapped onto the head of an innocent bystander who just happened to wander into this place. Little did that person know that they were about to be electrocuted in front of live audience of manic people gazing from a glass window ready to watch someone being punished for an unmentionable crime.
The horror. The sheer horror.
Now, the electric chair made during this VR hackathon was one of the more popular demos for sure. It attracted the most fearless developers to step up and give it a go. They sat down trusting that the dosage of electricity about to be pumped into their fingers tips wouldn't be enough to short circuit any vital organs. Of course, waiver forms were agreed to beforehand, but the fact that the experience was dealing directly with shocks of energy, it was vital to keep the voltage low and take the necessary precautions making sure that people liked it and were not harmed in any way. The rig was even faulty at times, giving a slight jump to some, while others felt the energy more, and some none at all.
It took some tweaking, but by the end, the team had figured out how to make the device consistently work. The proof of concept was viable. The pins, and wires, and relays aligned up perfectly, zapping just enough electricity to freak people out. But not enough to cause a riot over.
This is because the external sensory input of this hacker-made, custom gaming chair is only a small part in a growing trend. Already people are experimenting with wind for flying games. Rumble packs, like the KOR-FX
, are being deployed to gamers all around the world where acoustic sound waves are converted into physical vibrations allowing the user feel the in-game environments. No fear of electric shock there.
Essentially what is happening though is that virtual reality developers are experimenting with different methods of immersing the user further into the experience. With more tools and resources, soon they will be able to recreate just about any idea that pops into their brains. Which leads to the questions of what they will do with this enormous potential to influence a user in such a way that it could quite possibly have a negative effect on. Perhaps some might try to show that the dark side of virtual reality is always present. And it will show up in unexpected places too (like a somewhat random co-working place in Southern California).
For instance, an experience like an electric chair strapped together with virtual reality goggles and headphones could, heaven-forbid, be used to torture a prisoner of war. A legal loopholes that allows an organization to use a similar technology to play horrible visual effects with devastating sounds and uncomfortable vibrations instead of an alternative method like water-boarding could be done. And this hacker-made contraption of an electrifying virtual reality experience almost crosses into that kind of unethical, and possibly dangerous territory. However, the environment that this particular project was attempted in was a safe one. No one was injured, and everyone laughed about it. Because it was, overall, just another demonstration of what could be done with virtual reality with the right people, at the right time, in the right place.
For more information about the virtual reality meetup that spawned this project, check out their website here
. A video of the demo can be seen here as well