Friday, January 23, 2015

Adventure Tech: The North Face's New Virtual Reality Experience

It's no secret that fewer people are heading outdoors these days, with a particularly sharp decline amongst young people. Researchers believe that the rise of technology, including smartphones, tablets, and video games, has helped to erode interest in outdoor pursuits, as many now prefer to stay inside with their gadgets rather than go for a hike or on a camping trip. But The North Face has come up with an interesting new way to possibly spur interest in the outdoors once again, and with an ironic twist, they're using technology to do so.

At the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market convention,  currently taking place in Salt Lake City, the gear company introduced the Virtual Outdoor Project, which uses virtual reality video footage – specifically created for the Oculus Rift – that was shot by the wizards at Camp 4 Collective. Reportedly, the result is an immersive experience designed to create a sense of being outdoors in some incredibly wild and remote area.

For those not familiar with the Oculus Rift, it is a virtual reality headset that has become the talk of the tech world over the past year or so. With high resolution video screens and head-tracking technology, it creates an incredibly immersive experience that allows users to experience an environment that exists 360ยบ around the viewer. In other words, tilt your head to the left and you'll see what is happening in that direction. Turn around completely and you'll see things that are taking place behind you.

According to the Stephen Regenold of the Gear Junkie, the video experience that The North Face was sharing at Outdoor Retailer transported viewers to Yosemite National Park to experience a difficult rock climb up a route called "Separate Reality" from the eyes of the climber himself. The VR film included amazing views of the surrounding landscape, and captured the experience of what it was like to be scaling a big wall. At one point, the climber even loses his grip, falling down the rock face momentarily until his protection arrested the drop. The experience for Stephen made his stomach drop however, as the virtual reality environment simulated the plunge a little too closely. Later, the video even followed some BASE jumpers as they plunged off a cliff, capturing their fall in in "360 and 3D" as well.

North Face intends to roll out this VR project to its retail stores sometime this year. That means if you have a store in your area (Mine just opened!), you'll be able to drop by and give it a go yourself. The hope is that by bringing a virtual outdoor experience to customers, they may inspire more people to actually get outside themselves. Int his case, virtual reality may spur interaction with actual reality.

Call me a pessimist in this regard, but my guess is that it will probably spur consumers to actually want to buy an Oculus Rift or similar product, rather than actually go spend some time int he wild, but we'll see.

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