‘Teleporter’ offers travelers a virtual glimpse
I just got back from a much-needed vacation to Maui and London. Don’t be jealous, it only lasted 90 seconds.
The trip was arranged by Marriott Hotels and Oculus VR, an Irvine, Calif., company that develops virtual reality hardware for the gaming industry. In a play to appeal to younger travelers, Marriott struck a deal with Oculus — recently purchased by Facebook for $2 billion — and the creative studio Framestore to virtually transport its guests to far flung locales.
The “teleporter” is now in the lobby of the Boston Marriott Cambridge available to the public through Monday.
My virtual travels began when I stepped inside the partially enclosed structure, feet placed on a movable platform. Technicians fitted me with a thick-strapped Oculus Rift DK2 virtual reality headset and placed wireless headphones over my frizzy hair. They guided my hands to two poles I could grab for stability.
It felt like I’d been sucked into a video game. The teleporter’s initial scene, created by a mix of live-action video and computer-generated imagery, placed me in the newly renovated lobby at a Marriott hotel in Baltimore.
I craned my neck around for a 360-degree view of a swanky space filled with yellow and dark-gray seating and warm wood accents. I was guided toward a digital map of Hawaii on a glass wall (my feet didn’t actually move). A red circle formed around Maui, a bright light filled my eyes and suddenly I was traveling through a portal.
Just as I started to feel woozy, I found myself on a black-sand beach in Wai’anapanapa State Park. I felt the breeze and mist as soft waves ran up the shore. It was warm in the cove and a single palm tree swayed above me.
My fun in the sun lasted 20 seconds and then I was back in the dreaded portal. Returning to the hotel lobby, I heard the crackle of a fireplace, background music, and the conversations of fellow travelers. I reached a new map, this one highlighting Great Britain. Cue the portal.
Next I found myself more than 40 stories above London on the rooftop of Tower 42, one of the city’s tallest skyscrapers. In the distance, the Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the London Eye were lit up in a night sky. The platform beneath me tilted and I felt dangerously close to the roof’s edge. Wind zipped around me. My palms were sweating. I looked straight down and heard cars below.
By then I was actually relieved to be back in the portal. My minivacation ended seconds later at a bar in the hotel, a drink set in front of me.
For now, Marriott is touting the cool factor of the “virtual experience” in a two-month tour at eight of its hotels from New York to San Francisco. And, indeed, “cool” was the adjective most often used by virtual travelers to describe it at the hotel on Thursday. One said the quality of the imagery needs to improve and a few nearly fell over when the floor tilted.
The technology could be applied to everything from education to health care, sports, retail and, of course, gaming. A Marriott spokeswoman said the company hopes to set up the technology in its hotels on a permanent basis as a tool to lure travelers to book their next trip.
It might work. I spent the 20-minute cab ride back to the newsroom searching for affordable hotels in sun-kissed destinations.