I drove 125 miles to K1 Speed in the Los Angeles area coasting at 70 miles per hour most of the way. Now I’m looking at one of K1’s karts on a real-world race track. The seat is low to the ground and I sit down, stretching out my legs on either side of the vehicle and wondering if traditional driving experience will translate.
The kart features a temporary rigging to attach a computer and Oculus Rift VR headset. The speed of the kart is remotely adjustable by the system Master of Shapes is demonstrating. As part of this rigging, lights effectively broadcast the kart’s position to cameras overhead spanning the length of the winding track. There’s even a button on the wheel that could deliver one of the world’s first mixed reality versions of something like Mario Kart.
Sure, it is amazing to wear a VR headset so you can sit in Mushroom Kingdom while seated on a real-world motion platform. But that’s a different caliber of experience from the one I’m testing, which will move my body through the real world in an accurate feedback loop with the way I push the pedals and turn the wheel. It is similar to the “mixed reality” experience we saw in the Oculus Arena at the most recent Oculus Connect VR developer’s conference, which incorporated real-world mapping. Except this time I’ll be moving through real space in a vehicle under my control.
Which brings me back to that button on the wheel — the one that “could deliver one of the world’s first mixed reality versions of something like Mario Kart.” Representatives from Master of Shapes told me not to push the button. They were explicit about it before I got in the kart. The button was intended entirely for development purposes at the moment I sat down.
One day there could be races here at K1 where a kid too young to drive a kart on their own could grab a gamepad and log into the same race as their elder sibling out on the actual “speedway.” One day that button on the wheel could launch a virtual weapon to slow down another player’s kart.
I press down on the pedal and…
Not long after the video above ends there’s a hard left turn and, in my growing confidence blindfolded to the real world, I move my hands into a new position. I should remind you again they told me not to push the button. In fact, they even warned me what would happen if I did. The virtual world would rotate 90 degrees off the physical barriers of the real world.
“Oh ok,” I thought at the time. “That’s bad. Don’t touch the button. Now let me drive the thing.”
So I’m hurtling around that corner and suddenly the world snaps into a new position. In front of my eyes now, directly ahead, is the railing of the virtual track. I panic and can’t remember which foot to use to brake the kart.
Instead, I brace and hope for the best.
I seem to be fine for a few seconds and then BAM!
I took the Rift off and laughed. They told me how to put the kart in reverse and we wheeled it back to the starting line for a reset. The second time, I went slow for the first lap and then really pressed the pedal down for the second one. It all worked fine for a few laps as I came back to where I started in the real world.