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When VR feels more real than the “real” world

In the spring of 2016 we bought an HTC Vive VR headset at home. It came with fully motion-tracked hand controllers, and allowed for room-scale movement inside VR over an area of about 3x4 meters.

Head of Research Agenda and Quality at Consumer & IndustryLab

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Head of Research Agenda and Quality at Consumer & IndustryLab

Head of Research Agenda and Quality at Consumer & IndustryLab

It immediately changed my perception of reality.Already, on the first day, I felt totally awestruck when entering a huge hall, with an arched ceiling that stretched so high I could only barely see its apex - although I simultaneously knew I would hit the ceiling if I jumped just a little.

It also turned out that I do not need glasses in VR. Normally, I need glasses in order to view objects up close, but in VR everything is for some reason crystal clear.

Seeing is believing. And what you believe is reality. I remember suddenly not being able to locate the charge level indicator LEDs on the hand controllers anymore – until I realized those LEDs only exist when I look at the controllers inside VR.

Also, I don’t believe in ghosts. But meeting one in VR was so horrifying that repeating “this is not real” under my breath was of no use; the only solution was to tear the headset off.

Some experiences are simply just too real.

Like looking down and seeing I am dizzyingly high up on a precipice. Then swallowing hard and jumping to the ledge on the other side. Or walking though an Escher painting and feeling the twitch of nausea as the natural dimensions impossibly turn when you move. Or turning a four-dimensional hypercube, a tesseract, around in my hands, while watching its three-dimensional projection in front of me. Or dodging bullets in bullet time just like Keanu Reeves in that classic scene in the Matrix. Except now it is not an on-screen fantasy. I am there, doing it.

But I am not just having fun, I do work as well. At Ericsson ConsumerLab, we have just completed a project about AR and VR, where we did focus groups inside VR. Work was actually one of the areas the overwhelming majority of participants in the study said would fundamentally change due to VR.

Your job will most likely change too. For example, I have a friend who lives in Sweden but works as a clothes designer in Italy. He and I did a cooperative design session in VR and he realized this was the future for his profession.

Another friend of mine is a hand surgeon. I invited him to explore the human body in VR and after he had disassembled a virtual hand he was speechless.

Having your hands in VR is an important part of making it immersive. Eventually, you forget how low that ceiling is, and you jump into it because you want to catch the ball that comes flying there.

Interestingly, table tennis might be the most immersive experience of all. The weight and balance of the controller is like a typical a racket, and the haptic feedback convincingly conveys the light impact of the ball.

Recently, a neighbor set up a Ping-Pong table in their living room, for the kids. But when I played a few rounds there, I had the strangest reverse-reality experience. The bounce of the ball, the speed of a smash, and the spin on my serves – it all perfectly replicated everything I already knew from VR. Yet I could not shake the feeling that the physical world was somehow simulated.

When the borders between what we experience in VR, AR and the physical world start blurring like this, maybe we can talk about a merged reality. Read more about this in our Ericsson ConsumerLab report.

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