UK pair push the limits of VR tech by eating, sleeping, go-karting, and even getting a tattoo.
Motion sickness, accidental physical harm, eye strain; these are just three of the big health concerns commonly associated with using virtual reality headsets and are usually plastered all over packaging for VR devices.
You would think then, that enduring an incredible 48-hour purely virtual existence would leave the subject a gibbering wreck. Not so for Dean Johnson and Sarah Jones, a pair of virtual-living pioneers who pushed the technology to the limit to showcase its true potential.
Johnson, innovation head at Brandwidth, and Coventry University’s Jones spent almost every minute, both waking and asleep, across a two day period inside both portable and fixed VR headsets such as the Samsung Gear VR and HTC Vive.
The only exceptions were minute-long breathers to either record their reactions to camera or take a bathroom break.
As well as playing video games and watching films, the pair also used pass-through camera technology on the mobile VR headsets to walk a total of 41,381 steps and climb 39 flights of stairs.
To push things even further, Johnson also got a real, permanent tattoo and the duo went go-karting and even went wind-walking on a flying airplane, all while viewing the outside world through a HMD or immersed in an alternative virtual world. But why?
“[It] was to really show the many varied applications of VR,” Jones told IBTimes UK. “It’s not just about gaming. For me, the excitement for VR is in entertainment, education, learning, health, etc.”
“This showed how many different uses there are and it’s not about being isolated and in your own virtual reality. We also like to push the boundaries of what is possible with the technology so we can understand the limitations but also where we can make things great.”
As well as hoping to expand the way we look at the technology, Jones and Johnson also both wanted to test how the human mind reacts to extended VR exposure.
“One thing that I was interested in is reality and consciousness and I wanted to know if a virtual world could be so real that when I woke, I wouldn’t know it was VR and actually believe I was somewhere else,” Jones continued. “That didn’t happen so I’m yet to find VR with the ultimate sense of presence.”
While the cognitive aspect of the experiment didn’t quite deliver the ultimate VR-only lifestyle, there were a number of intriguing findings the pair found related to how the human body responded to prolonged virtual play.
During the tattooing session, in which Johnson had his skin inked with an old-school Apple Macintosh doodle, he found that his heartbeat was lower (76bpm as opposed to an average of 103bpm) while under the needle when also playing VR shooter Gunjack. He also discovered that it was slightly less painful thanks to the virtual distraction.
“If the headset off was my 10 benchmark,” Johnson told Engadget. “It came down to like a six or a seven. It really did seem to have some effect.”
As for whether they would recommend a similar experience to any budding VR enthusiasts:
“I don’t think I’d recommend anyone do something for an intense period of time!”, Jones told us. “However I’d recommend everyone to play and realise the true potential of VR for everyday applications. After 48 hours, I had created a beautiful tree and swing in Tilt Brush so that was something!”