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Remember the promise of virtual reality and how strapping on a pair of goggles could blot out the world around you and take you inside a new world full of amazing experiences and visual sensations?
And then remember how you haven't heard much about that in recent years?
Well, to paraphrase a famous line from Jack Nicholson in The Shining, "It's baaack!"
And, like most hi-tech innovations since Shawn Fanning's peer-to-peer music sharing system called Napster, this breakthrough VR technology comes from a guy who invented it three years ago at home when he was all of 18. His name is Palmer Luckey, and what he invented is called the Oculus Rift.
His name is appropriate, since another wunderkind, Mark Zuckerberg, recently paid $2 billion in cash and stock for the Oculus VR (virtual reality) system. Zuckerberg paid the price because he sees this system as one that can drastically change the way we use use social media, and he would prefer his Facebook not get left behind.
Among the benefits of the Oculus Rift is that it overcomes a big headache (literally and figuratively) of traditional VR devices. Here is how Wired magazine's Peter Rubin described that problem:
"It couldn't just be really good. It had to be perfect. In a traditional videogame, too much latency is annoying -- you push a button and by the time your action registers onscreen, you're already dead. But with virtual reality, it's nauseating. If you turn your head and the image on the screen that's inches from you eyes doesn't adjust instantaneously, your visual system conflicts with your vestibular system, and you get sick. There were a million little problems like that ... that would need to be solved if virtual reality were ever to become more than a futurist's fantasy."
So Luckey solved them.
The result, says Rubin: "Oculus has almost single-handedly revived that dream."
Here's what Zuckerberg himself sees in the way of possibilities for the Oculus system:
"Imagine enjoying a courtside seat a game, studying in a clasroom of students and teachers all over the world, or consulting with a doctor face-to-face -- just by putting on goggles in your home."
Oculus, in effect, is a VR system that leaves the concept of immersion in the rear-view mirror. In its place it achieves true presence, which Rubin calls "the feeling of actually existing in a virtual space ... As far as your brain is concerned, there's no difference between experiencing something on the Rift and experiencing it in the real world."
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