The idea came about at lunch. A table full of VR professionals getting ready to cross the street for a day of panels and media interviews. We were discussing where the industry was going and what kind of haptic feedback devices would one day hit the market. Jerry Berg, a tech youtuber and friendly squirrel chaser said something that was such an obvious hack that none of us “professionals” thought of it. He proposed using a salt water deprivation tank with VR. We all stopped at the relatively simple idea and wondered why none of us had tried it before. Basically the water would be used as a method of creating a sense of weightlessness, letting the user feel like they were floating/relaxing in space.
A few days after Emerald City Comicon, I started to draft plans for an MVP for this experiment of ours. The biggest challenge was making sure the acidic water wouldn’t damage any VR equipment. So we set a few simple rules.
- All headsets would be plastic and cost no more than $15.
- The experience would have to run natively on a smartphone which we already had.
- The experience would only have to work for 10 minutes without streaming from the internet.
- A 360 video would be the easiest method of floating in space.
- Adrian LaDelia would create relaxing atmospheric music.
- If you looked where your body would be, you will see a genderless avatar.
Two months later we were ready to test our experience. Jerry had a hookup from a previous video that he had produced at Urban Float in Kirkland, Washington. The tanks were separated into individual rooms and each one costed $40,000 each. The success of his video had given him free access to the facility for the 5 of us to test our MVP (Minimal Viable product). I volunteered to be the first one into the experience. Unfortunately a week prior I had been on a business trip that included a tube float down a river, cutting up the bottom of my feet from rocks. When I put my feet into the tank for the first time it burned from the salt water. A high pitched scream that you might find from scaring a group of girl scouts escaped my mouth with some choice words that couldn’t make it onto the video documenting the experience without a community flag on the video. After applying a handful of vaseline to every inch of my feet I attempted to try again. This time it burned but with much less severity. I layed in the tank with my body floating just above the surface, played the experience and shut the lid to the tank. For 10 minutes I laid in the water to acclimate to the environment, Ten minutes later the crew would fit me with the MVP. After about 5 minutes, the divide of the water and air disappeared. There was only me in the void of the experience. Sadly because of the immense pain from my feet, I was unable to be 100% relaxed but I got pretty close. Jerry Seemed to be able to enjoy the experience more that I was able to. Topher Welsh was the third test subject to try the MVP. His reaction was the most positive to the experience. After opening the lid his reaction to the MVP was as if he was going to melt like butter in the tank.
The entire project costed us $15 for a plastic headset and the time to build the experience. Because each of the three test subjects who tried the experience had a similar feeling of floating through space we wrote the MVP off as a success. We acknowledge that this may not work for every person who uses the experience and the biggest reason we found as a need for this was that many people are not able to completely zone out from being in a deprivation tank alone.
A week later Adrian and Jerry came onto my VR Talk show Glitched so our audience could get feedback about the process and the experience as a follow up to the video on Jerry’s YouTube channel.