The first Virtual Reality chair designed for communal theater settings is here.
Created by Los Angeles based startup Positron, the Voyager cinematic VR chair is a full-motion chair featuring a computer-controlled base that tilts and spins the chair in concert with what’s happening on screen.
At first glance, Voyager looks like a modern pod chair that you might find in any high-end furniture show room, requires little set up – and that’s exactly the point.
“You start with something familiar [the chair],” explains Positron CEO Jeffrey Travis, a software engineer with a film degree.
The egg-shaped chair dubbed “Voyager” is designed for seated VR (without the hassles of setting up bulky goggles). The white pod, red velvet lined chair uses audio embedded in the chair for an immersive VR experience. The chair’s relatively quiet motors deliver motorized robotic rotation and reclining.
With Voyager, CEO Travis says the goal is to provide a cinematic experience, and a familiar gateway to VR.
A key feature is Voyager’s ability to provide 360 degrees of unlimited yaw motion and 35 degrees of pitch motion.
“One of the things that we’re addressing is the motion sickness,” explains Travis. “Twenty percent of people get motion sickness watching VR. This has to do with the brain seeing visual images that indicate that you’re moving, but you’re not.”
“We’ve found by adding a little bit of movement, the motion sickness is two percent.”
Voyager also features scent technology, specialized seating for motion-synchronized theatres, and will work with either the Samsung Odyssey ant Oculus Rift headsets.
Tom Cruise in Zero-G
In January 2017 Voyager premiered at the Sundance film festival held in Park City, Utah. Positron’s team of engineers created a virtual cinema theatre, consisting of twenty motion synchronized Voyager chairs.
Viewers were immersed in a twenty-minute VR experience narrated by Tom Cruise that took them behind the scenes of Universal Studio’s blockbuster film The Mummy.
During the VR experience, Tom Cruise and co-star Annabelle Wallis are sent tumbling around in “zero gravity” inside an air freighter as it drops out of the sky during a crash. As the plane goes through zero gravity, the chair tilts up and down to give audience members the feeling of floating in Zero-G.
Will VR Create Social Isolation?
Looking ahead to the future of VR, Travis acknowledges the concern that VR will be just one more screen addiction in our future.
“Today people grapple with screen addiction and feeling tethered to their smartphones. And I think about that,” he says.
But at a Positron event held at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, he and his team observed another side to VR. Attendees were taking their headsets off, gathering at the bar, and wanting to talk about their VR experience afterwards.
“One of the things we found was that having the chairs synchronized,” says Travis “and having the experience start at the same time creates community and a social experience.”
VR and Treating PTSD
Asked about potential applications of VR in mental health, he has high hopes for the future.
“One of the anticipated uses of this is treating PTSD, and anxiety disorders and I think having biometrics and that real-time feedback will be exciting,” explains Travis, who says that Positron is looking into integrate biometrics into the chairs’s built-in PC. “I’m excited to see what happens with VR in mental health.”
In regards to opportunities for VR applications beyond movies, Stanford University Professor and VR expert Jeremy Bailenson seems to agree.
In his book Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How it Works, and What It Can Do Professor Bailenson says studies in the lab have shown that VR is an experience that feels real to the brain. Because it feels so immersive, early studies indicate that VR can improve our ability to recover from trauma, to communicate, and to learn.
Explaining how VR is fundamentally different Bailenson says,“Virtual Reality is not a media experience, it’s an actual experience.”
According to Bailenson Hollywood’s excitement over VR aside, the “killer app” or best uses of VR may not be those that leap to mind immediately. Training athletes, healing mental health issues, and even using VR to create empathy for societal issues like climate change, are some of the VR studies his lab is diving into.
Positron’s CEO admits that perhaps the “holy grail” of VR content that inspires has yet to be created. But he sees VR as a new technology that has evolved since the 1990s when bulky VR headsets and graphics with very low polygon count were the norm.
“When you put the headsets on [in the next two to three years] you may not be able to tell the difference between Virtual Reality and reality,” according to Travis.
“It is still the dawn and in four or five years, this will be a huge industry for telling VR stories that matter.”
Positron closed a $1.4 Million seed funding deal in January 2018, provided by Lazar Ventures. The company says that Voyager VR chairs will be coming to cinemas, VR centers, hotels, museums and airports later this year.