Man has faced many challenges in his eternal pursuit to fly like a bird.
Short of the real thing, the Birdly flight simulator, developed by a team from Zurich University, plunges the user into a fully immersive, virtual reality experience. The rig looks like a futuristic massage table, with users lying flat on their belly on a padded frame. They put on an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset along with headphones, before stretching their arms out on what are essentially wings. All the senses are stimulated thanks to olfactory and wind feedback.
“Sometimes it’s scary, for example when you nosedive, like this. You’re diving towards the ground really fast. It’s a fascinating feeling,” says design student Fabian Troxler.
According to the speed of the user, the simulator regulates the headwind with a fan. The smell feedback is based on the changing scenery and ranges from the scent of a forest to soil or other outdoor smells.
Its creators say it has been a roller coaster of a project starting which several prototypes.
“It’s been exhausting. We were under a lot of time pressure. There were only three or four of us working on it and we did everything from beginning to end – the electronics, the software, the hardware. It was a lot of work,” says project leader Max Rheiner.
They are hoping the simulator will not only provide a unique virtual reality experience but also help raise awareness about the protection of endangered bird species.
“We had a brainstorming session and we decided that there was no better way to raise awareness about the importance of bird protection and bring visitors closer to the fascination of flying than to build a simulator that would allow them to fly just like a bird,” says Max Rheiner.
Thanks to 21st century technology, Man might finally be close to fulfilling his dream without getting his wings burnt. All the fun, adrenaline and even the smell without the danger of crashing, just the risk of looking a bit silly.