Travelling, a virtual reality


When Facebook bought the nascent virtual reality company Oculus for US$2 billion in March 2014, predictions of a new technology revolution were rife. With Oculus Rift, the company’s much-heralded £499 virtual reality headset now ready for international distribution, the impact on how and where we travel could be momentous.

Testing an early version of the headset two years ago, I was able to tour the Tuscan countryside at the flick of a switch. Though the graphics were rudimentary, they are improving rapidly and tech experts expect we’ll be able to ‘visit’ precise replicas of the world’s most popular destinations within a decade. Beyond benefits such as enabling the immobile to, say, take in the view from the top of Machu Picchu, it could also assist travellers who wish to ‘try before they buy’. And a number of companies are eager to capitalise on these commercial and promotional opportunities.

The superyacht chartering and sales company Yachting Partners International has partnered with VR developer Bricks & Goggles to produce virtual reality manifestations of unbuilt superyachts. It’s an invaluable innovation that enables potential buyers to ‘walk’ around their purchases before fully committing to financing their construction. Prospective buyers can get a sense of how their desired yacht would feel in reality, and far in advance of their completion date, so enabling them to change features that aren’t precisely to their tastes far before they have invested in their development. Qantas, meanwhile, is making Samsung VR headsets available in some business- and first-class cabins and lounges.

Champagne house Moet & Chandon is harnessing the power of VR too. Moet Academy offers visitors the opportunity to virtually tour the company’s vineyards and to follow an immersive experience from grape to glass.

Facebook and Oculus partnered Microsoft to ensure that the Rift will work well with Windows games. The 90-minute sessions, costing £45 per person, are led by wine experts and include the opportunity to taste select champagnes.

Taking a broader approach, American start-up YouVisit is expanding its portfolio of VR tours and claims users of its app with a compatible VR head-mounted display will be able to explore more than 1,000 destinations, be they hotels, restaurants or landmark attractions. Polished competitor Jaunt, meanwhile, offers what it terms ‘cinematic VR’. Its app plants users in the middle of documentary footage of faraway and inaccessible destinations such as North Korea and Syria. But with virtual reality in essence unreality, travellers aren’t limited to existing places or current times.

At the Disney & Dali exhibition (until 12 June) in Florida’s Dali Museum, visitors who don a VR headset will be able to wander within Dali’s 1935 painting Angelus, a transcendental experience that would presumably have excited the artist immensely.

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Published 8th June 2016