SAN FRANCISCO — Virtual reality does an amazing job letting you see new places, in general, but it leaves your other senses flate. A startup called Whirlwind VR aims to immerse users even deeper into their favorite virtual worlds with Vortx: a new gadget that can control the heat and movement of the air around you.
I experienced Vortx firsthand at GDC 2016, where I watched a 360-degree video that put me right in the middle of a Clash of Clans battle. Every time a weapon fired or something blew up near me, I felt a sudden burst of air on my face — the haptics synced so well with the action that I actually jolted in my seat a few times.
Things got more intense after that. As soon as a dragon swooped in, I felt the strong gust of wind that it left behind. Once he came back around to breathe fire on me from above, I instantly felt hotter.
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The Vortx itself is a 14-inch tall cylinder with a vent in the front that shoots various bursts of air at the player. The device can control the temperature at up to 99 degrees, and can crank the air velocity to as fast as 100 cubic feet per minute. Whirlwind VR's website claims that the Vortx has built-in safety features, but doesn't specify what they are.
Creators can pre-order a developer kit now for $299. Those kits should ship this summer; Whirlwind VR aims to begin crowdfunding the consumer model late this year.
During my short time with the Vortx, I found that the added heat and wind sensations were just strong enough to pull me into the action, but not overwhelming enough to make me feel uncomfortable. If enough creators embrace Whirlwind's unique haptics tech, it could quite literally make virtual reality games and movies both cooler and hotter.