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Hugging and Smelling Trees in VR

All in the name of art.

The 2017 Tribeca Film Festival has officially come to a close and I’m still trying to wrap my head around all the incredible VR projects I was lucky enough to experience. However, one exhibit in particular stands out in my mind. It was able to hit all my senses at once, in one of the most unique VR experiences I’ve had to date.

It also let me passionately hug a tree for 7 minutes. So there’s that too.

 

Titled TREEHUGGER: WAWONA, this incredibly original experience had me peering into the inner universe of an enormous redwood tree as I witnessed the beautifully interconnected system of roots transport water throughout its massive system.

I began by strapping a haptic feedback vest to my chest as well as two Vive controllers to my wrists. My hands needed to be free as I would actually be sticking my head into a real life giant cylinder filled with holes meant to serve as the tree. Mapped over the virtual tree presented in the experience, I was able to physically place my hands on its base and stick my head into a small hole at the bottom of the trunk. This allowed me to enter the inside of the tree and view an astounding circulatory system of flowing water. As I went deeper into the tree the haptic feedback suit began to vibrate stronger as more complex patterns of colorful lights began to appear. Not only that, but a previously unseen attachment to the HTC Vive headset steadily released an intoxicating aroma of fresh pine. I was admittedly skeptical of scent-based VR technology up until this point, but I’m happy to say this project made me a believer.

This intelligent combination of environmentalism, art, science, data and technology did a wonderful job of not only educating users on the complex anatomy of the redwood tree, but displaying a competent use for immersion-enhancing add-ons like haptic feedback suits and scent-based technology. Mapping the virtual tree over a physical structure obviously did wonders for immersion by allowing users to really feel like they’re entering the tree. Leaning against the base and carefully sticking my head through the slim hole to reveal a hidden universe was a surreal feeling unlike anything else at the festival. Hopefully TREEHUGGER’s developers, Marshmallow Laser Feast (no I’m not kidding) continues to utilize immersion-enhancing attachments in their future projects.

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