Hot on the heels of Facebook's acquisition of virtual reality handset maker Occulus, a new VR startup has emerged from stealth with a solid positioning in the travel industry.
It's called Jaunt and it promises "completely immersive, 360-degree 3D video and audio experience" thanks to the company's proprietary camera technology.
The most obvious applications are in entertainment, for displaying both traditional media and a new form of interactive, choose-your-own destiny content. Yet the immersive content journey has already begun in travel, with startups like Sphere offering new 360-degree ways to experience travel and destinations.
However, the company is clearly aware of the wider implications of the technology. Some of the team members previously worked at mega-publisher Condé Nast, and the website says that "Jaunt will let you travel to far away places, experience breathtaking natural vistas" without having to actually do anything besides slip on a headset.
A new definition of realism
The brand name clearly highlights the means of travel via the handset, defining jaunt as a "short journey, especially one taken for pleasure." The brand has several current uses already in travel - see Jaunted - and the origin story has a direct genesis in travel:
The idea for Jaunt originated in early 2013 when one of our founders returned from an amazing experience at Zion National Park. What if he could go back there for a brief jaunt, at any time, from any place? The emerging consumer VR industry provides the mechanism to travel to virtual worlds. We aim to put realism back into the virtual reality experience, lending an uncanny sense of presence never before possible with any other technology.
The push towards "realism" includes a sophisticated sound algorithm that tricks the brain into thinking that it's present by moving sounds around the ears just like they would be in the real world. The cameras and mikes capture all aspects and angles, ensuring complete realism.
The realism push means more than just watching movies or exploring a faraway destination; it also opens up new ways to teleconference, engage with business clients, and explore tradeshow floors. Imagine an endless stream of robots roaming the aisles, directed by at home users not actually present. Imagine concerts, events and festivals - realtime experience without the cost.
Or, at least without the cost to the consumer who only has to pay for the headset and any access fees. The actual filming of the immersive content will likely remain prohibitively expensive for some time in travel, except for only the highest value scenarios.
The future of human interaction?
Of course, the human touch and authenticity of the in-person experience still maintains relevance in society. Perhaps these technologies will remind society of the limits to eliminating human interaction - or they will be the final proof that the in-person experience can be exactly replicated without leaving one's own home.
Beyond larger societal implications, what happens when the actual "A-to-B" physicality is removed from travel? Will the travel industry successfully adapt if everyone can travel the world without actually going anywhere? Will this reduce travel - and related emissions - resulting in a net benefit to the planet? Or will this emerging tech act as a teaser to travel, allowing consumers to test drive destinations before purchasing, increasing satisfaction without reducing travel - and impacting the millions of people that rely on the world's biggest industry for survival?
These are weighty questions that have been simmering for decades, with technologists predicting a VR future that includes the singularity. Yet, within a span of one week, commercially-available technology has made a giant leap towards this imminent future. The industry must now grapple with how these emerging platforms will impact the very industry that supports so many.
Tnooz has reached out to Jaunt for our TLabs series, so we can all hear more about the driving vision for this emerging technology.