Oculus Rift in the Kingdom

Cornel Hillmann works on his own Oculus Rift demo game: “Mekong Mutant” (Photo Courtesy of Cornel Hillmann).

By Cecelia Marshall for The Khmer Times

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Imagine yourself in a spaceship bound for Mars or stepping out on a techno dance floor surrounded by dancers moving through a veil of mist. 

Welcome to virtual reality’s (VR) newest cutting-edge technology – Oculus Rift (OR) -which now can be found in Cambodia, thanks to “local messiah” Cornel Hillmann.

Hillmann, a computer graphic designer/developer for Oculus Rift, is showcasing his new technology throughout the country.

From Nerd Night presentations to technology conferences, and even hosting demonstrations in his home, he is educating people on what he calls the “next big thing” for technology, business and media.

When you place Oculus Rift – the dork helmet – on your head, it creates the illusion that you are in an artificial environment. It  tracks movements of your head and then sends images to the display.

The virtual reality created by OR appears like a legitimate world, albeit with computerized graphics.

“It changes how you perceive yourself and reality,” said Hillmann. “It’s all about perception and living.”

When the OR Developer Kit first came to market in 2012, Hillman was instantly fired up. He had been following virtual reality since its early days in 1990s.

“The early prototypes of VR suffered a vast lag time, resolution was poor and appeared grainy,” he said.

In contrast, he said that on experiencing OR, “I was electrified and it became clear to me that this was a total game changer.”

The creation of Oculus Rift can be credited to a young entrepreneur, Palmer Luckey, a college student frustrated by the slow development of VR.

Taking the initiative, he built his own headset using duct tape and parts from past tech industry failures.

With the help of an online Kickstarter campaign that raised $2 million, OR developed into an international technological sensation.

“This reminds me of the early days of the Internet – the feeling that something big is just around the corner,” said Hillmann. “This will be a whole new era; it will open up new possibilities and opportunities for businesses.”

Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift this March will speed up development and make it more social for everyone, said Hillmann.

“Mark Zuckerberg is smart enough to not screw it up,” he predicted.  “I believe it’s going to stimulate the economy.”

“Maybe at some point it will become social, where people can share experiences at a sophisticated level,” said Hillman. “There are already experiments where people have a shared space in virtual reality.”

Currently Hillmann is working on an OR demo game.

The test project “is based on a dream I had a while ago where some sort of mutant creature was chasing me down Riverside,” he said. “I’m calling it ‘Mekong Mutant,’ and I’m trying to explore the sense of scale you get in VR.”

Hillmann hosts small gatherings at his home for friends and strangers who have seen his talks and want to try OR for themselves.

With the OR’s volume cranked up, Hillman demonstrated simulations resembling Mario Kart, the Star Trek Enterprise and a pulsing rave with a laser shooting Buddha.

“It’s freedom from reality,” said Hillmann. “Reality isn’t a bad thing, but it’s good to have some choices in reality.”

However, this spurs the fear some people have about the future implications of this technology.

“I am a bit cautious about the implications it would bring in the future,” said Kanchan Kapoor, after testing the device.

“You can’t really replace reality.” “At first it was a bit disorientating,” said Claudia Zehl. “But it’s also breathtaking.” Virtual reality has limitless potential applications in the future.

People will able to visit the Louvre in Paris, the Great Wall of China or Angkor Wat from anywhere in the world.

“I’m going to be very interested in how kids grow up with VR, and how they’re going to pick dimensions with their virtual lives,” said Kapoor. “It’s going to be incredible when it comes out, we just need to be careful.”

“Fear and danger always come with new technology,” said Hillman. “Society has to react and teach people how to interact with VR,” he said.

The consumer version of OR will be released next year. The development kit is currently available for $350.

“Cambodia is a great place to do this,” said Hillmann, “It’s low cost, you can create your own bootstrap projects and there are almost no distractions, except for the karaoke festivals next door.”

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