MILWAUKEE -- There are millions of things that make up our reality as we know it. Imagine a world where you can go anywhere, experience anything and be anyone. We have reached the doorstep of this new technology – walking through will undoubtedly change the world we live in.
Jeff Fitzsimmons is the creator of a 360-degree video of Milwaukee’s Polar Bear Club which was featured in The New York Times. He’s also the owner of Custom Reality Services – a virtual reality company based in Milwaukee’s Third Ward.
His business is putting the viewer smack dab in the middle of an alternate reality – or virtual reality.
“It gives you the ability to walk through that experience and feel like it is happening to you,” said Fitzsimmons.
Virtual reality is a technology that has been tried in the past, but failed a few times over, in fact. This time around though, VR has emerged as a mainstream phenomenon.
“Every commercial you see has people wearing VR goggles, and in 2011, virtual reality was jet-pack, flying car, crazy talk and that's a big shift in a short period of time," said Fitzsimmons.
There are different levels when it comes to virtual reality headsets on the market. The most basic is Google Cardboard and can be used with almost any smartphone. The next step up is Samsung’s Gear VR which can only be used with specific Samsung phones. After that comes the more professional grade models including the Sony PlayStation VR and HTC VIVE.
“The HTC VIVE, the controllers, the computers, the software -- we're talking thousands of dollars at that point,” said Ben Holt, marketing director of EC Virtual Reality in Waukesha.
“Coming here is kind of like an arcade, you know? We have ones where you are playing by yourself. We have ones where you're playing with people here, and like you said, there are experiences," said Holt.
You can try different experiences like swimming with jellyfish or riding to the top of a New York City skyscraper. Holt calls it the perfect place for a conservative adrenaline junkie.
However, gaming and entertainment are just the beginning for this instant escape.
“This is like the invention of electricity, not like the invention of 3D movies. This will impact everything," said Fitzsimmons.
It is already being used in theme parks, on university campuses, for magazines -- even real estate. The Broadway Market Lofts in Milwaukee’s Third Ward are far from finished, but when a potential renter puts on a virtual reality headset, 'what is' turns into 'what could be.'
“It’s really hard for a lot of people, including myself, to imagine what the fixtures are going to look like, the finishes,” said Lindsey Bortner, property manager for Milwaukee View.
The applications for virtual reality are endless now that the computing power has finally caught up with the vision.
“That difference was the difference between 'I want to throw up' and 'wow, this is amazing. I really feel like I’m here,'” said Fitzsimmons.
There is still a ways to go with the hardware. Fitzsimmons said the big, bulky headsets and trailing wires will all eventually go away.
If you want proof VR is here to stay this time, Fitzsimmons urges you to look at those at the forefront of embracing this new frontier.
“Any technology people can figure out how to have sex in it will be around forever. Television, VCR,” said Fitzsimmons.
Is virtual reality being used now for that purpose?
“Oh yes, but don’t Google that!” said Fitzsimmons.