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Virtual reality machine gives you the wings of an awkward eagle

Combined with an Oculus Rift, the Birdly lets you feel what it's like to be a bird. Sort of.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read

Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET

You can already take to the air virtually by using an Oculus Rift and a drone, but if you've ever dreamt of lifting your wings and soaring like a majestic bird of prey, an experimental new machine can pony up the goods.

Called Birdly, it's described by its Zurich University of the Arts creators (Max Rheiner, Fabian Troxler, Thomas Tobler, and Thomas Erdin) as a "full-body flight simulator", based on the movements of a bird in flight. It consists of a padded bed with tail and wings, an Oculus Rift headset, flight simulator software and a fan.

The user lays face down on the bed and slips their hands into the wings. Hydraulic actuators allow the machine to be controlled by moving the wings up and down, while the Oculus Rift's motion sensors detect head movement.

"Unlike a common flight simulator you do not control a machine you embody a bird, the Red Kite," the team wrote on their website. "To evoke this embodiment, we mainly rely on the sensory-motor coupling. The participant can control the simulator with his hands and arms, which directly correlates to the wings and the primary feathers of the bird. Those inputs are reflected in the flight model of the bird and displayed physically by the simulator through nick, roll and heave movements."

As the user flies over the virtual landscape, displayed via the Oculus Rift, the fan blows in their face, simulating the wind, regulating according to the speed of flight, while various scents -- such as the smell of trees or dirt -- are wafted into the user's face, based on the landscape below.

We're not sure it's quite as accessible as a quadcopter rig... but if one came to our local arcade, we'd certainly give it a go. Check it out in action in the video below.