When I first heard of the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that has been getting much attention in the past several months, I was skeptical. I was skeptical about whether technology has come far enough to make the virtual seem real, and I could guarantee I wouldn’t be fooled by such a thing. So when I was contacted by Marriott Hotels to attend their #GetTeleported event, I jumped at the chance.
Marriott partnered with Academy Award-winning Framestore to create Marriott Hotel’s virtual travel experience, which would give visitors a fully immersive, 4-D sensory experience based on the Oculus Rift technology. The company is carting a phone-booth like ‘Teleporter’ to several locations and inviting press and public to step inside. Using a new-unparalleled technique for capturing 3-D, 360 degree live-action video, and mixing it with CGI, video effects and creative content studio Framestore and experiential marketing agency Relevent created the virtual experience.
When I donned the headset and the headphones were placed around my ears, I was introduced to an image of a Marriott Hotel bar room. The pixels were clearly visible, I will admit, but the graphics had a strangely realistic feel to them. Background music and utensils scraping against plates pumped through the headphones. The view panned forward as if I were walking through the bar, and came to rest on a map of the Hawaiian Islands, with a pin placed on a specific location. Suddenly, I was pulled into the map and transported to a beach, the machine around me spraying a gentle mist over my face concurrent with the waves splashing on the beach.
The location was Wai’anapanapa State Park on the east side of Maui. Again, I could see the definition of some the pixels slightly, but the view was strangely realistic despite the flaws. It caused me to drift in and out of being aware of the technology I was staring into, and being awed by it. I was on a remote beach with waves splashing in front of me, rock formation on either side. I decided to test the system, and when I turned to look behind me I found the sand led to a hill with tall grass behind me. Birds cawed, the waves splashed, and the wind whistled in my headphones. I was fully immersed in the world.
Soon I was pulled back to the virtual Marriott and led to another map, which pulled me high above the city skyline. The platform at my feet slanted forward, so it felt as if I were leaning over a balcony at the south-facing 40th-floor of the Tower 42 in London. The vision was jarring, and for a split second I felt myself pulled into the reality of the VR the way I was intended to do so. Soon I recognized the flicker of the pixels once again, but the effect was still apparent. The view pulled back to the Marriott, and soon cut out before an attendant removed the headset.
The Oculus Rift technology is not the complete virtual reality that some might hope for. If you placed the technology over someone’s head as they slept, they would not wake to believe they were in another location. They would be aware of the strangeness of the images around them. This is not the Marriott’s goal. They hope to drum up excitement for visiting different locations by giving a glimpse of what it might be like to be there. After all, if visitors do not travel to the actual destination, they would not need to spend money to stay in a hotel.
“Right now it’s a real way to promote travel” says Alan Smith, General Manager of the Boston Marriott Cambridge where the event I attended was held.
The #GetTeleported event did accomplish what it set out to do. I enjoyed the experience, and I will admit after seeing the virtual doppelgangers of Maui and London I am curious to witness the places in person. Virtual reality is not replacing reality any time soon, but the Oculus Rift provides a great substitute. I’m excited to see how they can augment gaming, learning, and travelling in the future.
You can visit the Teleporter now through November in the following locations:
- October 2-5: Marriott Marquis Washington DC
- October 9-12: Atlanta Marriott Marquis
- October 17-20: Dallas Marriott City Center
- October 24-27: San Diego Marriott Marquis
- November 6-9: San Jose Marriott
- November 13-16: San Francisco Marriott Marquis
Video: See the view of London through the Oculus Rift goggles.