Oculus Rift and Kinect 'Vertigo Simulator' is totally terrifying

By hacking a bunch of gadgets -- and a fan -- together, it turns out you can convince a human it's about to die!

Luke Westaway
Luke Westaway is a senior editor at CNET and writer/ presenter of Adventures in Tech, a thrilling gadget show produced in our London office. Luke's focus is on keeping you in the loop with a mix of video, features, expert opinion and analysis.
Luke Westaway
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We're big fans of hacking different technologies together -- especially if the resulting contraption can convince a frail human body that it's about to die horribly.

Enter Inition's Vertigo Simulator, which uses the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset and Microsoft's Kinect to create a frightening virtual scenario, in which participants must walk across a skinny chunk of concrete between two skyscrapers.

I visited the company's London studio to give the setup a try -- click through the photos above to check it out, as well as several other virtual-reality treats on show. 

Donning the Oculus Rift, a darling of the Kickstarter community that's currently still in development mode, I'm struck by how quickly the headset's sensors react to my movements. Next I'm asked to put on some headphones, which bring sound to the experience, and make it very tough to hear further instructions.

A Kinect sensor, mounted above, tracks my movement, while Unity software provides the pretend environment. Completing the setup, an electric fan blows air on me, bringing the sensation of a howling wind to the scenario.


The visuals aren't especially cutting-edge, but it's more than enough to fool my stupid brain, which immediately struggles to remember that I'm not really perched above a high drop, and wastes no time in firing up the adrenalin pumps.

Somewhere in the distance I can hear a voice saying something about keeping my arms out, but my attention is on maintaining balance. Just in time I extend my arms, to find I was about to clock my head on the opposite, real-life, wall.

While walking back along the virtual beam the software triggers a fall, and I tumble off the virtual skyscraper, my brain briefly overloaded with panic and a falling sensation. You can see a picture of that if you click through the photos above.

While I suspect it'll be a while before AR becomes a widespread, commonly used technology, the creepy demo is more than enough to convince me of its potential. Oculus Rift has previously been used to simulate having your head chopped off, and before leaving I was treated to a glove-sensor-scenario that featured a hand-amputating guillotine. Thanks, humanity.

Do you like the sound of virtual reality? Or are you not convinced? Let me know in the comments, or on our Facebook wall.

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First you have to spread your arms, so the sensors can get a bead on you, or so the people running the demo can make you look weird.
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Next, don the Oculus Rift headset, which contains a screen for each eye, and is crammed full of sensors. Note: Oculus Rift is not suitable for those who have carefully styled their hair that morning.
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To complete the immersion, you'll be asked to wear these headphones, which make it hard to hear any further instructions.
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The program, built in Unity software, simulates walking across a perilous piece of rubble between two skyscrapers, as you tread carefully along this red beam.
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You're looking at a man trapped inside a virtual nightmare, as air from the noisy fan is replaced in my mind by gusting winds blowing through debris.
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Here's the view from the top. It doesn't look ultra-realistic, but my idiot body couldn't tell the difference.
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Part-way through the demonstration the software triggers a fall from the virtual precipice, which my body certainly didn't know was fake. You're looking at my death-face, people!
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A Kinect unit monitors your movement. There's almost no lag during the whole process.
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But wait -- there's more! This contraption simulates walking on the spot, using Oculus Rift and a bowl-shaped plate that you move your legs on, as Kinect checks for ankle movement.
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The shoes slide with ease, thanks to these special slippery studs. It takes some getting used to, but moving around in the virtual space isn't too tricky.
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Here's the plate you'll be spinning around on...
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...and here's the complete set-up, with Kinect in view.
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This program simulated moving around a virtual garden. Peaceful, non?
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Here's a shot of the Rift unit itself, which is still in development stages.
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Finally, here's a glove packed with sensors. Put on Oculus Rift, and you'll be able to see your whole arm moving in virtual space.
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"Place it on this block? Oh, okay... why?"
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"Oh, I see, this demonstration makes you believe you've had your hand cut off. Charming."

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