“YOU MIGHT WANT TO SIT DOWN,” Mike Woods tells me. I recline in an office chair, and a moment later, after whizzing through a space-time tunnel that looks like a tornado made of pure light, I find myself standing on a beach in Hawaii. The colors are vivid and rich, the sunlight dappled. The sound of waves echoes in my ears, palms sway in the wind, and the wide ocean sparkles to the horizon. I am alone.
I feel an immediate sense of calm. It’s uncanny, but I would swear my skin is growing warm in the sunlight and a faint breeze is carrying a mist off the water. My heartbeat begins to slow. But as I crane my neck to check the trees for coconuts, the landscape becomes pixelated. It’s kind of like being on spring break in World of Warcraft.
I’m immersed in a virtual-reality experience, aptly called the Teleporter, created by the British digital media studio Framestore. The Hawaiian expedition, along with a virtual journey to the top of a London skyscraper, was designed for Marriott Hotels as a way for its guests to experience the future of travel. Woods, the founder of Framestore’s digital department, helps me off with my headset, an Oculus VR Rift. It’s then that I realize the ocean spray was actually just beads of sweat that collected on my forehead around the edges of the bulky goggles.
“It’s as close as you can get to a real-life experience,” Woods tells me. All those former travel agents who lost their jobs because of the
digital revolution haven’t seen anything yet. VR companies are working feverishly to enable would-be adventurers to travel the globe from the comfort of their own futons. Want to scale a digital replica of the Great Wall of China? Paddle down the Amazon? Just “jack in,” as Ralph Fiennes put it in Strange Days. “People in the next few years will have a separate room in their house that’s just full of stuff like this,” Woods claims. “If you want to go and hang out at the top of the Eiffel Tower or go to a mountain in Iceland, you can.”
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