The Oculus Rift has promised true immersion in games, but it's always struggled with input. How can you really feel like a skydiver if you're sitting on the couch, holding a controller? Birdly, an installation at the Zurich University of the Arts, is probably more like being in one of Leonardo da Vinci's flying machines than turning into a bird, but that remains an impressive sight. Imagine your body lying on a bench, flapping wooden wings while your avatar soars across the sky. Imagine the sound of the wind in your ears, courtesy of a fan above your head. Imagine the smell of dirt or a forest, wafting up to you in the form of artificial scents. "The participant is embedded in a virtual landscape where his body is the body of a Red Kite," explain the creators.
Devices like the Omni Virtuix treadmill can let you "walk" through virtual environments, but this is the most complex Oculus Rift VR hardware we've seen, outside the realm of very specific training simulators. VR as a whole has bounced between extreme immersion and simple suggestion over the course of decades. In 1957, the first virtual reality system, Morton Heilig's Sensorama, used not only sight but smell, vibration, and wind to give the illusion of a motorcycle ride. Far more recently, but before the current VR boom, psychologist Skip Rizzo used it to treat PTSD with a combination of goggles, sound, and smell. Gloves and bodysuits have been used for interaction in the past, but so far, Oculus Rift developers have tended to rely on simple game controllers. Birdly isn't exactly widely reproducible, but it's an intriguing experiment for a new generation of virtual reality.