Flight done right

A year and a half ago, at the 2014 SIGGRAPH Conference in Vancouver, I first tried out Birdly, a kind of virtual reality experience in which you put on a VR headset and get strapped into a contraption that looks vaguely like a bird. When you flap your arms, you find yourself “flying” around San Francisco, like a bird soaring through the air.

Today I was thinking about this experience because our current “Future Reality” research at NYU involves using Tactonic Technology floor mats as a kind of magic flying carpet that lets you fly around in virtual worlds merely by shifting your weight — much as I imagined doing as a little kid, when I first learned about magic carpets, and wondered why I couldn’t have one.

This in turn made me think about the flying dreams that I still have from time to time, and which are always completely delightful. In my flying dreams, I am often soaring around cityscapes, swooping gracefully between buildings and generally having a grand old time.

And in all those dreams, I have never once hit anything. Whenever my flying self gets near to a building, I merely veer to the side, or cleanly soar up over it. In the moment, this seems ilke the most natural experience in the world.

In contrast, the first time I tried Birdly I kept crashing into buildings. That just didn’t seem right to me, since I know quite well that I can do better, from all the extensive flight time I have put in while in slumberland.

I guess that’s one of my motivations in wanting to use the Tactonic floor mats to allow us to soar through the air in our VR research at NYU. Why should my magical flying self ever need to crash into a building? It’s one of those situations where I know it can be done better, because I’ve seen it done better.

Even if I was sound asleep at the time. 🙂

3 Responses to “Flight done right”

  1. J. Peterson says:

    Man, I love flying dreams. If you capture the sensation as well as the visuals, you’ll have a line around the block.

    When I was a kid I used to fantasize about flying around with rockets attached to the soles of your shoes. You’d steer by just slightly altering the angle of your foot to zoom off in a different direction.

    I was amazed to see it become reality:


    My young self didn’t think of the wrist-mounted guidance jets. But given the challenge of stable flight with rockets at your feet, I guess you need all the help you can get. The guys in the video look like hard-core athletes.

    I’ll bet your Tactonic floor and a couple of hand-held controllers could make a really fun simulation of this.

  2. Jocelyn says:

    Why don’t you try using a breath sensor, or a small mic that detects the sound of breathing as a signal to fine tune the motion — going in the opposite direction of your carpet? Not to steer (you need right and left for that), but to create reverse thrust so you can slow down so you don’t crash into the building. You’d ride on the carpet, and blow out as you reach the building to control your arrival speed.

  3. admin says:

    One of the nice things about virtual reality is that you can simulate a synthetic autonomic nervous system. I shouldn’t need hand or breath controls to fly in that world for the same reason I don’t need crutches to walk in this world: My “virtual body” already knows how to remain upright, and flying through the air without my avatar crashing into buildings should be as natural as walking around with my own feet in the physical world while not tripping over every object in sight.

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