This VR Experience Might Be as Close as It Gets to Flying

The trick is to throw you into an indoor skydiving silo.

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Sep 2 2016, 12:55pm

Airflow by Mindride, 2016, VRLA Summer Expo. Courtesy of Yehuda Duenyas

Suspended in a Hollywood-grade stunt harness with a VR headset strapped on your head, you fly above a mountainous landscape as the sun rises and falls in the distance. This is Airflow, a VR ride that makes you feel like you’re flying. Unlike Birdly, the VR bird simulator, Airflow relies on full suspension, simulating the gravity felt in freeform flight.

The ride was created by Mindride, a company known for their unique immersive experiences. “We are interested in the mythic human experience," Yehuda Duenyas (a.k.a. XXXY), founder of Mindride, tells The Creators Project. "We’ve all had the dream of flying. Everyone. We want to create experiences that you wouldn’t normally be able to have.” 

Airflow by Mindride, 2016 VRLA Summer Expo. Courtesy of Mindride LLC

Commenting on the rig itself, Duenyas tells The Creators Project, “I’m interested in making your body become the controller. There’s not a controller in your hand, it becomes an intuitive, physicalized process that’s unlike a mouse, game controller, or a keyboard.” Once suspended in the harness, you throw your arms back to fly faster, move them forward to slow down, and tilt them to turn. You can fly higher or lower by moving your neck up and down. The rig also uses digitally-throttled fans to immerse the rider further by matching their flight direction.

Early experiments in 2010, labelled “Infinity Simulator”

Airflow demoed at the Virtual Reality Los Angeles (VRLA) Summer Expo this year. VRLA is an annual conference and expo held in Los Angeles, California. This year’s expo was their biggest yet, with over 130 exhibitors and more than 6,000 attendees.

“The first digital flying experience we made was in 2010,” says Duenyas. It was called Infinity Simulator. The predecessor of Airflow used a harness, a pre-Oculus headset and two arduinos strapped to the rider’s chest to measure accelerometer and compass data. The current rig, on the other hand, was born out of a desire to do something more with the XSens suits Mindride used to create its Emmy-nominated campaign for Love Has No Labels.

Yehuda Duenyas testing XSens suit for Love Has No Labels, 2014. Courtesy of Yehuda Duenyas

The project’s lead developer, Nick Suda, elaborates on Airflow’s development: “We built a basic machine learning classifier system to detect gestures, combined it with Mindride’s previous interest in flying machines (Infinity Simulator et al) and topped it off with access to practical FX shop gear. We then eventually wanted more precise control over the control scheme, so we built our own hardware.” According to Duenyas, the future of Airflow is to become a platform for VR developers to create their own experiences.

Team Mindride at GDC. L to R: Michael Todd (Embedded Systems, Software Architect), Yehuda Duenyas (Chief Experience Officer), Nick Suda (Lead Developer), Ben Kato (Lead Designer). Not pictured: Justin Molinari (Unreal Developer). Courtesy of Mindride LLC

Airflow will be showcased again in late September at the Bulletproof conference in Pasadena, and at a YPO conference in Toronto. To stay in the loop on where the ride is going, you can follow Mindride here.

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