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Building a biometric VR experience

Blog
01 December 2016

The Mill NY’s ECD, Rama Allen on Strata, the company’s “responsive VR experience driven by biometrics” that it demonstrated last week at The V&A’s Friday Night Late Event

Strata was born out of twin fascinations: how we interact with digital media and how we can see the body's invisible machinations. You can connect these two things via standard consumer wearables, but those have always felt dissatisfying to me — you can read your heartbeat on your wrist, so what?



I wanted to use technology to create a nontechnical relationship with ourselves, by creating a biofeedback system that’s felt rather than read, in an effort to complete the theatre of immersion and amplify it with the authenticity and power of real-time data feedback. VR, after all, is about transport, and the dream of the experience is quite fragile. To distract from the whole is to interrupt the dream and do a disservice to the medium and the feeling.

I'm also interested in new control and interaction concepts. Can our films and games bend to our emotions? Can our autonomic nervous systems play a role in navigating and creating richer experiences?

The Strata universe is made up of a Subterranean lake, a Meadow, a Floating island, an Aurora and Nebula.

I love myth, hallucination and otherworldly constructs. A lot of my work is informed by authors like Borges and my own dream states - magical architecture, basically.

For Strata, I imagined what our ‘innerverse’ might look like translated into landscapes. I wanted the structure to be a continuous, chaptered progression that one could seamlessly levitate through, so the design became a meditation on layers that feels like an emergence from dark and solid environments upwards to ephemera and light.



There’s been a great deal of interest in Strata. We’re still very much in the prototype phase, but are nearing solutions to create a working format for a diverse range of permanent installations, from the fine arts to medical facilities, as well as a publishable model for wider distribution. I'm incredibly excited to see where and how Strata evolves.

This might be the most rewarding work I’ve ever created. User responses have run from joyful tears to calm awe. It seems to quiet our internal metronomes of anxiety, so a lot of people immediately want others to try it, to share that experience. Of course, there are some who don’t quite connect with it, but we'll continue to improve it. In the end, I just want people to feel something, whether it's simply beauty and relaxation, or deeper mindfulness and meaningful therapeutic shifts.

Any new medium in its infancy will look backwards to find success. In our case, films and video games are obvious connections, but I believe VR has far greater possibilities that can only be found through more divergent thinking. I'm hoping to see more experiments like Strata out there in the world. We must focus on VR's strengths and challenges. We must take chances. We must dream in new ways for this new medium.



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