The Wellington VR company looking to make a splash in the tech world
Ever wanted to try flying a plane? Or give a race car a go?
That reality is closer than you think with the rise of virtual reality (VR) technology, and one Kiwi company is leading the charge.
Wellington VR company Eight360 is a true Kiwi backyard invention: set up four years ago, the small crew working on creating a VR unit would move from leaky garage to slightly less leaky garage in a quest to make a working prototype.
The result was the company's first viable demo unit, NOVA, an untethered motion simulator platform with VR capabilities.
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"It started off as just a crazy novelty project and slowly got more serious," Eight360 CEO Terry Miller said.
In the last couple of years, Miller has started working on the project full-time, alongside George Heather-Smith and a crew of part-timers.
The first demo unit now sits in Lower Hutt's 1st Assembly, a co-working space for hardware start ups. It's currently trapped in a room, too difficult to be dissasembled and taken on the road, but with work underway on a new VR model, that's not a problem for the tech company.
A few months ago, Miller and the crew started working on the next version of NOVA, one that will be ready to roll out for customer use when construction is finished around April.
"Because this is a new technology, there's a lot of possibilities to explore. Everyone we talk to comes up with new things to do with it and we're not sure where the market is," Miller said.
As it stands, he saw three main areas where the technology could be used.
Firstly, entertainment pure and simple. A NOVA could be installed in a cruise ship, or in Auckland's Skytower to run games or virtual tours.
Secondly, Miller saw it as an outreach tool for different companies: for example someone looking to promote a racecar or racetrack could show a demo.
And thirdly, the technology can be used for flight simulations and vehicle training - the more "serious" application, that could be used by anyone from flight schools to the Defence Forces.
What separates NOVA from other VR machines is its untethered nature. The spherical cockpit can rotate fully, rolling over and over and over - in fact that's where the name NOVA came from.
"Commercially designed VR systems are not designed to do this," Miller said, "They do not like being spun around."
The battle for the Eight360 crew was working out how to make the cockpit spin around in conjunction with the VR headset.
Homegrown fixes, a bit of masking tape and Kiwi ingenuity managed to bring it together.
In the long run, Miller hoped to build a few NOVA units, and said they would look at hiring them out for companies and events, or selling them.