Stock traders could one day get an idea of how their portfolios are doing simply by looking up to see if it's raining. At least, that's the idea behind Fidelity Investments' virtual stock city, a software prototype that lets people navigate their investments by putting on an Oculus Rift headset and studying the weather, the flight paths of virtual birds and the heights of the buildings.
Using Facebook's recently acquired virtual-reality platform, Fidelity's virtual city is supposed to give users a visual representation of how the market is performing each day without the stale arrows, charts and ugly red numbers. The company's ambition is for traders to start thinking, "Is that something I should be watching or thinking about or looking at in a different way?" says Hadley Stern, the vice president of Fidelity Labs, a research and development arm of the company. By giving people a different way of looking at the financial tools they play with daily, "the metaphor becomes real," he says.
Fidelity is among an experimental group of software developers stretching the Oculus Rift beyond its typical gaming applications. (Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg.com, has also demonstrated a version of the terminal built for the Oculus Rift.) The spread of Oculus into fields set far away from its traditional world of games may vindicate statements made by Facebook at the time of the $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR.
"After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences," Mark Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page on March 25. "Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home. This is really a new communication platform."
Now that 100,000 Oculus Rift developer kits are in people's hands in 130 countries, as Zuckerberg said on yesterday's earnings call, some developers are starting to fulfill the Facebook chief executive officer's promise. Here are a couple of other strange Oculus apps that may give people new ways to relax or design the next hit app:
Birdly is not so much a game as a trippy way to navigate a map. To craft an experience that makes users feel like they're soaring like a bird above skyscrapers, a team at Zurich University of the Arts paired Oculus with a ceiling fan and something that looks like a backwards dentist's chair developed in the workshop of Dr. Frankenstein.
Max Rheiner, who's helping develop Birdly in Zurich, says the project would have been extremely difficult to do without the Oculus Rift. Traditional head-mounted displays and other systems have serious drawbacks, he says.
"Those systems were mostly laborious and difficult to access," Rheiner writes in an e-mail. "The Oculus is straightforward to access, and the overall quality of the immersion is superb compared to the price of the unit."
Brian Peiris adapted Oculus to create a virtual world where he and other computer programmers can write code and watch the results appear before their eyes. Peiris spent a year writing the software to let him put on his headset and start programming in a world of his own making. "When a creator has a direct connection to what they're creating and an immediate connection, amazing things start to happen," he says.
By tying the impact of the code he wrote to the world around him, Peiris created a fun way of programming that gave him immediate sensory feedback on his code.
"The truth a lot of programmers won't admit to is most of us are on power trips because we have control of this amazing machine that has a billion transistors that can operate at millions of operations per second and is connected to billions of other machines," Peiris says, without taking a breath. "If you combine that with virtual reality, suddenly your ability to control the machine is tied to your ability to control the world around you, and that experience is very infectious."