×

Virtual Reality You Can Touch: Nomadic Wants to Bring VR Experiences to Malls, Movie Theaters

Headsets, immersive computer graphics, and… flashlights? Nomadic, a Northern California-based virtual reality (VR) startup that came out of stealth mode Thursday, has been busy working on bringing everyday objects into VR — and now, it’s getting ready to show the world what adding a real door, a stool, or said flashlight can add to immersion. “Reaching and touching anything is the most magical part,” said Nomadic CEO Doug Griffin.

During a recent demonstration at the company’s office-slash-warehouse space in San Rafael, California, Nomadic’s staff handed me an Oculus Rift VR headset connected to a portable backpack that housed the computer capable of rendering the company’s VR experience without the need for any additional wires. Also essential to explore the demo: A real-life, bulky flashlight with a real button, which in turn triggered the same flashlight in the virtual world.

That flashlight wasn’t the only physical object incorporated into the VR experience, which one could explore by walking around just like in the real world. A set of leaky pipes let off some real hot air, a file cabinet actually had to be opened to retrieve a real-feeling gun replica, a virtual reality door could only be operated with an actual doorknob. All the while, all of these objects were rendered perfectly in the virtual world, where shooting drones were flying above and city lights were shining in the background.

Popular on Variety

And then there was that wooden plank, which I had to walk over to get from one rooftop to another, avoiding a steep and scary drop into a back-ally, and which actually wobbled under my admittedly shaky feet. “I’ve done it 40 times, and I still get that feeling in the stomach,” said Nomadic’s head of growth Kalon Gutierrez during an interview afterwards.

Nomadic isn’t the first company to add physical cues to virtual reality experiences. But the company does have a novel concept of getting these kinds of experiences out in the marketplace. Instead of building and operating its own VR locations, Nomadic wants to partner with bigger players that already have a lot of real estate at their disposal and are now looking for the next big thing to retain and monetize audiences. Think mall operators, theater chains and the likes.

To make operating VR experiences easier for these companies, Nomadic is looking to build completely modular sets that can be reconfigured within a few hours based on simple instructions. The idea is that a theater or mall space runs an experience for two to three months, and then simply downloads the next one to its computers, completely with an instruction set on where to place doors, furniture, levers, heaters, fans and other physical cues.

Modular, marked ground tiles are supposed to make set changes as easy as building a Lego model. Simple, reusable objects combined with detailed virtual worlds are meant to help bring Nomadic’s experiences to new centers within a matter of days. “Everything we are doing is built for scale,” said Griffin.

To prove its concept, Nomadic build a simple experience that lasts roughly five minutes and is designed for just one player. In the future, the company wants to also enable social VR experiences with multiple players, with each lasting around 15 minutes.

And not all of them will feature shooting drones. “We don’t want to appeal to just the core gamer,” said Gutierrez. Instead, the company also plans for family-friendly experiences, and Griffin said that theaters or malls may one day run multiple experiences targeting different audiences, much like they now show a number of movies at the same time.

However, Nomadic doesn’t want to build all of these experiences itself. Instead, it wants to cooperate with both VR studios and traditional content creators to adapt their stories for this new world, in which VR headsets play as much a role as flashlights and wooden planks. Said Griffin: “We see this as a new medium of entertainment.”

More Digital

  • YouTube TV

    YouTube TV Is Dropping Fox Regional Sports Nets, YES Network After Sinclair Standoff

    YouTube TV, Google’s internet pay-TV service, said it will drop the Fox regional sports networks and the YES Network from customer lineups this Saturday, Feb. 29 — citing an impasse in negotiations with Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns the RSNs. “We purchase rights from Sinclair to distribute content to you,” the YouTube TV account said [...]

  • Facebook F8 Conference 2019 - Mark

    Facebook Cancels F8 Developers Conference Over Coronavirus Fears

    The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has prompted Facebook to cancel this year’s F8 developers conference. The F8 2020 was scheduled for May 5-6 at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, Calif. The social giant had held the conference every year since 2007, and last year’s F8 drew more than 5,000 attendees, according to the company. [...]

  • Rachel Whitney Joins Spotify as Nashville

    Rachel Whitney Joins Spotify as Nashville Head of Editorial

    Rachel Whitney, formerly of YouTube, is joining Spotify as the Head of Editorial for Nashville, she announced in a social media post (which recently has become a method of the streaming giant announcing new employees).  A source close to the situation points out that the company now has two female executives at the helm of [...]

  • RM, V, Suga, Jin, Jimin, Jungkook,

    BTS' New Video for 'ON' Breaks YouTube Premiere Record (Watch)

    BTS have dropped their second official music video from their new album, “Map of the Soul: 7,” for the song “ON” — and within minutes of it dropping, the song became the biggest YouTube Premiere of all time, with 1.54 million concurrent viewers tuned in for the clip’s debut on YouTube Premieres. According to the [...]

  • Lisa Holme

    Discovery Hires Hulu's Lisa Holme to Lead Streaming Strategy

    Lisa Holme, a Hulu veteran who had been leading its international expansion strategy, has joined Discovery in a newly created role to oversee content and commercial strategy for the company’s direct-to-consumer streaming group. Discovery named Holme to the newly created role of group senior VP, content and commercial strategy, in Discovery’s direct-to-consumer group. She is [...]

  • Peloton

    Peloton Settles Legal Fight With Music Publishers

    Peloton settled a lawsuit filed by members of the U.S.’s music-publishing trade organization that had sought more than $300 million in damages over the interactive-fitness company’s alleged use of 2,468 unlicensed songs. The National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), which represents American music publishers and songwriters, and Peloton together announced that they have “fully settled” the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content