Parked on a roadside in San Francisco's Castro neighbourhood is what looks like Mad Max's ice cream truck. The back doors are open, revealing an empty room with a few wires scattered around, and a man stands in the middle, HTC Vive on head and arms outstretched, as he calibrates the sensors. It's 2pm on a Tuesday and the streets are mostly empty, but I'm told that will soon change: an event is taking place in the event space nearby and the team are anticipating that many VR first timers will soon be queueing up to have their minds blown.
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On the side of the truck the words 'Exit Reality' are displayed, and if you haven't worked it out yet this is a travelling VR room. Exit Reality isn't the first to come up with the idea of VR delivery. We've talked about VR arcades on Wareable, and recently took a trip to Imax's first virtual reality cinema in LA. Virtual reality - good virtual reality - is expensive. Many people have never tried it, and among those who have the subsection that own an Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or even PS VR right now is small (but growing). Exit Reality's business plan is to reach these people.
The truck is rented for events around San Francisco; it comes along, parks up, and people step in for a taste of another world. Inside there's a Vive and a library of titles for people to try. "For some people it's The Blu because it's passive and tranquil," Exit Reality co-founder Ilya Druzhnikov tells me. "Some people just want to shoot zombies."
At most events, Ilya says, people aren't charged to play as the cost is shouldered by whoever is renting the truck. But he says they've also tried stopping at neighbourhoods around the city and charging people a small fee to hop on board. If the Child Catcher had one of these, business would have been booming.
It's business, but Ilya says he loves that moment people first try VR. "People think of it too much as technology. They forget it's magic. If you're gonna sell magic, sell them magic".
Plus, making more people aware of the wonders of VR is good for the industry as a whole. "A unit sat at someone's home is producing a couple of new users a week," says Ilya. "This is going 50 a day".
The company is building three more trucks with plans to get at least one in LA and one in New York. It's also scaling bigger with fixed indoor "cubes", as Ilya describes them, which are pop-up VR rooms it can bring to launch parties and suchlike. And the team is also working with content developers to make exclusive experiences you'll only be able to have at Exit Reality events.
It's early days - for Exit Reality and the VR industry - but the wheels are turning, and getting VR onto the faces of as many people as possible is going to be what makes this technology really take off.
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