Taking Virtual Reality to the Fourth Dimension

Newlyweds in New York City are treated to a virtual honeymoon minutes after being married.NEW YORK ― One of the fascinating science-fiction concepts introduced by "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was the holodeck, a virtual-reality space where nearly anything could be visualized and experienced in a non-dangerous environment. Well, the holodeck was not life-threatening when all its safeguards were in place, but occasional episodes of the now-classic series found a way to imperil the lives of innocent holodeck users.

In an effort to bring the experience of being in exotic locations to those of us who will never travel there, Marriott Hotels has created the Virtual Travel Experience Teleporter. This phone booth-sized technology system is reminiscent of the "holosuite" device imagined for another "Star Trek" series, "Deep Space Nine."

Designed and built by Academy Award-winning special-effects expert Framestore (the company that designed the effects for the film "Gravity"), the Virtual Travel Experience Teleporter aims to bring the sight, sound and feel of exotic locations to a downtown hotel near you. If it's not quite up to holosuite levels of sophistication, it still provides a fun ride.

It all starts with high-quality 3D video.

"The video was shot with a Red Epic Dragon camera," said Ian Cleary, vice president for innovation and ideation at Relevent Partners in New York, Marriott's marketing partner that helped develop the content for this initiative. "We first captured all the footage needed to encompass a 3D 360-degree view, and then assembled in compositing software Nuke."

To get the impact of the video, Marriott uses Oculus Rift DK2 virtual reality headsets.

"The DK2 is the leading VR headset out there right now," Cleary said. "We like it because it offers 1080p resolution and head-tracking capabilities that allow our virtual travelers to look at all elements of the CGI Greatroom in detail and from any angle. You can literally 'look around' a glass on the bar, which makes it feel incredibly lifelike."

There's more to creating virtual reality than just excellent 3D video, however. The Virtual Travel Experience Teleporter uses sound, of course, as well as a variety of other sensations to deliver the impression that you are where your eyes are saying you are. Figuring out exactly what sensations to include was part of the system design.

Among other devices, the Marriott Virtual Reality Teleporter uses an Oculus Rift DK2 headset and separate headphones. "As we shot footage in London and Hawaii, we had staff stand next to the cameras and create what we call a 'Sensory Survey,' recording all sensations they were feeling at that moment, including: wind, temperature, humidity, scent and vibrations," Cleary said. "We then faithfully recreated that sensory inventory in the Teleporter using a system of integrated built-in mechanisms: industrial fans, heating elements, scent machines, Buttkicker speakers, misting machines and a pneumatic motion deck."

Coordinating the experience requires a show-control system that times and modulates the delivery of audio, visual, olfactory, motion and tactile stimuli.

You can see how people in the Virtual Travel Experience Teleporter react in this video.

To get an example of the behind-the-scenes technology that went into the Virtual Travel Experience Teleporter, take a look at this video (caution: loud music alert).

The system is traveling the U.S. right now, bringing the experience to those who might have thoughts of travelling but are willing to give a virtual destination a try first. The Virtual Travel Experience Teleporter tour kicked off earlier this week in New York and will be in the following locations in the upcoming weeks:

• Sept. 26-29: Boston Marriott Cambridge

• Oct. 2-5: Marriott Marquis Washington DC

• Oct. 9-12: Atlanta Marriott Marquis

• Oct. 17-20: Dallas Marriott City Center

• Oct. 24-27: San Diego Marriott Marquis

• Nov. 6-9: San Jose Marriott

• Nov. 13-16: San Francisco Marriott Marquis

For a complex and potentially delicate system, Cleary said that it's essentially plug-and-play as they move it from city to city.

It's not yet up to "Star Trek" holosuite standards… yet. However, the Virtual Travel Experience Teleporter is here today and available for a free instantaneous ride to locations that you might not otherwise visit. The good news is that you don't have to negotiate with a Ferengi to use it.

Bob Kovacs

Bob Kovacs is the former Technology Editor for TV Tech and editor of Government Video. He is a long-time video engineer and writer, who now works as a video producer for a government agency. In 2020, Kovacs won several awards as the editor and co-producer of the short film "Rendezvous."