Sundance: Aquatic VR Experience Simulates Outer Space By Lying You Face-Down In A Pool

Spaced Out ditches gravity to immerse you in a mind-bending trip through the cosmos.

Along with serving as the premier showcase for the biggest independent films of the year, Sundance has quickly become notorious for its selection of wild and experimental immersive projects available for public consumption. Whether it be a VR immersive theater piece featuring live actors or a multi-person mixed reality experience that monitors your breathing patterns using biometric sensors, no two projects are even remotely alike at the Sundance’s New Frontier program. 

This lineup of bleeding-edge immersive offerings includes Spaced Out, an underwater VR experience that simulates the weightlessness of outer space by having users float face-down in a pool wearing waterproof headsets. Brought to life by pioneering aquatic VR company Ballast using their proprietary DiVR headset, Spaced Out combines custom VR technology with what the team describes as “collage of scientific and poetic representations of the moon.”

Image Credit: VRScout

Fortunate enough to try the experience out for myself, I hopped into the indoor pool and was strapped to a custom buoy device tethered to a weight sitting at the bottom of the pool; this was to keep me from floating too far out of position and potentially injuring myself on the concrete edge of the pool. After being properly secured, a member of the Ballast team serving as lifeguard of sorts handed me their DiVR headset, which features a custom design in which the water itself is used to help magnify the screen and enhance the visual experience. The headset also lacks any dedicated headphones. It instead emits sound through the device itself and uses water vibrations to deliver the audio to the user; it’s a fascinating design that works just as well as your standard over-the-ear headphones. 

Image courtesy of Sundance Institute, Ballast

From here I equipped a snorkel, kicked my legs up, and floated face down in the water as the experience began to start. Over the next 9-minutes, I traveled all the way from planet Earth to the center of the Moon, along the way soaking in an eye-popping combination of historic archival footage from the famous Apollo 11 mission as well as various artistic representations designed by Pierre “Pyaré” Friquet, a veteran digital artist with over a dozen VR fictions under his belt. These images included colorful depictions of the Apollo 11 spacecraft, as well as several exaggerated elements included specifically for the experience, such as snowstorms and active volcanoes on the Earth’s moon. 

Combined with the weightlessness offered by aquatic VR, as well as several sound bites that were taken in the NASA control room during the Apollo mission, these images delivered a sort of surreal, out-of-body experience that sent shivers down my spine. During several portions of my demo, I genuinely forgot I was floating in a pool. Only until I rose from the water and saw my fellow attendees lying face down like corpses did my mind return to reality. 

Image courtesy of Ballast

Jokes aside, Spaced Out is a perfect example of how aquatic VR is already developing into an exciting subcategory of immersive entertainment. Along with Spaced Out, Ballast has been offering its water-based VR services to numerous water parks around the U.S. Their VR waterslides, in particular, have become an especially popular attraction; due in large part to their convenient design which allows operators to quickly load new experiences using NFC chips; they simply need to tap the front of the headset to activate a new experience.

If you’re at Sundance and are looking for a calming escape from the festival-chaos, definitely consider stopping by Spaced Out at Festival Headquarters this weekend. For more information visit here.

Feature Image Courtesy of Sundance Institute, Ballast

About the Scout

Kyle Melnick

Kyle is a writer for VRScout also working in new media production. He's also a part-time bounty hunter.

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