Using Morton Heilig’s 1957 invention “Sensorama” as a source of inspiration, designer Michael Kenney has developed a DIY virtual reality platform that goes beyond visual engagement to create a truly immersive, multi-sensory experience.
Starting with simple, everyday objects including PC fans, essential oils, and a bundle of 1x1 lumber, Kenney was able to create a world-class VR experience for less than $100.
“Since moving to New York City, I have been researching the benefits of nature therapy. It has become apparent how much I love to be outside, and I wanted the same kind of quick, deep, outdoor escapes that I had access to in the Pacific Northwest,” states Kenney.
After experimenting with Google Cardboard and Unity 3D, he was able to successfully emulate the types of terrains that reminded him of home, but something was missing. “It isn’t enough to only have a view of the lake. I need to feel the wind on my face, smell the dirt, and hear the birds whistling in the trees overhead,” Kenney explains.
His project, the Personal Holodeck, is a corner-of-the-room-sized riff on the Star Trek technology of the same name. Starting with simple, everyday objects including PC fans, essential oils, and a bundle of 1x1 lumber, Kenney was able to create a world-class VR experience for less than $100.
With the opportunity for 360 degrees of exploration, it may seem strange to design around a fixed position, but Google’s design guidelines for Cardboard recommend a seated experience. For this reason, there have been several big VR chair startups popping up recently—such as ROTO and VRGO—that are trying to tackle the problem of moving through space while sitting down.
Kenney’s project, however, steps away from this trend and delivers a product that focuses on impacting our senses with built-in components that recreate the scents, sounds, and movements of real life environments.
Argues Kenney, “Gaming is the entry into VR, but there are exciting possibilities for therapeutic applications, empathy creation, and immersive experience design that require us to engage all of the user’s senses."
With headsets form HTC, Sony, and Oculus retailing between $500 and $800, technologies like Google Cardboard have democratized the general public’s access to virtual reality. Let’s hope that open source, DIY project’s like Kenney’s do the same for the future of VR.
See more of Michael Kenney's work at michaelleekenney.com