Are you familiar with the concept of astral projection? Any reader of Doctor Strange comics (or watcher of the film) will recognise the moment where the Sorcerer Supreme leaves his body and his spirit flies through space. This is something my nieces and nephews have been experiencing this week.
I have been sent a ViFly R220 drone to review for The Loadout and 5live. It is a racing drone that comes with a set of goggles providing first person view. In other words, you can fly the drone by seeing what the drone sees. Pop the goggles on, pick up the controller and you can leave your body and soar through the air.
It’s extremely disorienting the first time you try it. I’d use that as an excuse for smashing the drone into a wall but I wasn’t wearing the goggles at the time. One of my nephews was. I’m hoping he hasn’t been scarred by the experience.
Drones for all
Racing drones with the paraphernalia for a first-person view remain a novelty for now. But inevitably this technology becomes smaller and more widely available. If, as I expect, most of us start to sport mixed reality glasses or lenses at some point, it could be a momentary switch between your ground-bound reality and soaring to the clouds — or anywhere else — seeing the view and taking the controls of any number of drones you may own or have access to.
‘What’s the point?’, you might ask. There are a few sensible challenges. Virtual environments are now so realistic that you can get much of the same experience from a computer game. So why risk real-world injury and cost? And beyond the thrill what’s the value?
Well the risk of real-world injury and cost is the point. That’s what makes it exciting. And the real world will always bring more chance and variability than a game. But that only satisfies the thrill-seeking angle: why would anyone else in the population ever want to experience an aerial perspective in the first person?
Think about live events: sports, F1, marathons, parades. Think about traffic and being able to see what’s ahead. Think about any time you have wanted to be in two places at once or get a different perspective. I wrote four years ago about the FascinatE project to change the nature of television. With drones, the scope for this project is massively expanded. You could experience, first hand, events anywhere in the world.
Smaller, lighter, cheaper
Now think about what the drones will be like before long: smaller, lighter, cheaper, longer lasting. Imagine that your phone network or whoever you purchase your augmented reality equipment (and data connection) from has a network of drones in the sky that you can jump — virtually — into at any time, like a flying car club.
The skill will take time to gain, though these drones will likely have a smarter AI assistant than the deliberately manual drone I was flying (crashing). The dislocation of your senses is an acquired taste, the brain’s natural reaction is to trigger a sense of sickness when this happens — some believe because the only time we’d experience such a dislocation in the past is when we had ingested something poisonous and hallucinogenic. But for a generation raised on fast-paced computer games it should be a more easily acquired skill.
In a mixed-reality future, where everyone is equipped with augmented reality and access to endless low-cost, tiny drones, we are all sorcerers, capable of projecting our astral selves across the planet.