VR is Delicious!

In November of this year, X Studios was tasked with creating an innovative culinary experience for Royal Caribbean. The event, Sea Beyond, was held at the GreenHouse in Brooklyn, New York and was an event to peer into the future of technology on the high seas. The attendees included Fortune 500 CEOs, high-profile executives, celebrities and social media influencers. And the verdict was clear — technology can make an already amazing vacation even better.

We worked with the famous cruise ship company along their amazing team to do something that only a few years ago would have been impossible — allow diners to eat in virtual reality. To achieve this, we used HTC Vive headsets, Leap Motion sensors and a custom dining tray that leveraged light sensors to detect when food was picked up. The result was an experience where you could be fully immersed in your food, and just happened to be in VR.

The Experience

Our goal with the seven-minute piece was to enhance explore the well understood connection between visuals and taste. In this case, we had three mini-appetizers (each appeared as a different glowing orb within the experience), that when eaten, caused the overall virtual reality scene to change. The scene would shift between a Japanese dojo, a garden in winter, the same garden in spring, and finally, Japan at night. We made sure that the audio facets of the experience were immersive as well. A voice over actor would guide you through the experience, and great care was taken in choosing appropriate sound effects and mood-conducive music.

Here’s a video from CNET showing the experience. The article became the leading story of the day:

The Set

Two custom areas were built for the experience, that could accommodate 20 guests at once. We had 40 Vive headsets connected up to gaming laptops, which is by our estimation the most simultaneous Vives to ever be used in one space. The amount of headsets also allowed for nearly 1,000 guests to get the opportunity to try the experience during the course of 3 days.

One piece of “magic” lay in the custom banquet table. Both Vive and Leap Motion are very sensitive to light reflections and infrared, so we tested various IR absorbing materials until we found a material that worked well for covering the table. The material as well as custom calibration allowed us to double the recommended range of Vive headsets to about 30×30 feet.

Lighting & Custom Sensors

We created custom “bento boxes” that were in fact trays with light sensors underneath. These boxes had pin holes underneath each food item, and that light was enough stimuli paired with the Leap Motion sensors to register that you were eating when you picked up food with your hands.

The overall quality and amount of lighting was very important. We found that light pollution affects the performance of the Vive, and so we chose dim conditions. This also suited the idea of more romantic, restaurant-level lighting.

Ultimately, our experience was one of the highest rated features at event, and was everything our client desired and more. We were grateful for the opportunity to build something extraordinary for Royal Caribbean that not only furthered the concept of “fine dining” but the  VR medium as a whole. If you’d like to attempt the impossible in VR we’d love to hear from you.

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