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13 Mar 2015, 15:19

Project Nautilus VR — what are they thinking?

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Yesterday, a post showed up in my Google+ feed from a friend talking about Project Nautilus VR. Project Nautilus VR is a Cardboard clone that adds a full face-mask and snorkel to be used underwater. That’s right, underwater VR. And no, this is not a joke, as far as I can tell.

That’s right, underwater VR.

nautilus vr

Nautilus VR in its natural habitat While Project Nautilus VR is an interesting application of VR, I really can’t believe that they’re actually launching this. I usually try not to talk publicly about products that I think are misguided, mainly because it’s so hard to figure out what’s going to do well despite my cynicism (Snapchat, I’m looking at you). However, this seems like an incredibly bad, and even dangerous idea. Namely, because people are going to be put into an extremely immersive VR environment, in a situation with real danger — that of drowning.

There are an average of 3,868 accidental drowning deaths each year — without people being tricked into believing that they’re in a different environment. If I were on that team, and this idea was being pitched, this would have been my immediate first question, “how are we going to prevent people from drowning while using this thing?” Given that there is no mention of safety on the Kickstarter page (aside from the one about being safe from sharks), I have to wonder if anyone on the team asked this question.

“no mention of safety”

One thing that you can see from using Cardboard, Oculus, or even watching videos of people using Oculus with certain demos, is that you become completely disoriented from your surroundings — and that’s when you’re on foot. Using Cardboard, I’ll typically end up across the room or facing in a weird direction without noticing. Project Nautilus is placing you in a less familiar situation, in the water, with a snorkel, and then removing one of your main senses. What happens when someone becomes disoriented in the water? What if they happen to drop the snorkel below the water line? Are people going to think fast enough to rip the VR unit off their head and go to the top?

Some VR experiences are immersive than others, all you have to do is watch some of the videos of people wearing the Oculus and completely freaking out when there’s some external stimuli applied at the right time during a demo. What happens to someone who gets startled, just as the big shark is swimming at them?

This is also being pitched as a consumer product, not one to be used for specific training. They’re positioning it as an educational product, and have lots of kids in the images on their Kickstarter page. I cannot fathom encouraging handing one of these things to a child without literally standing in the water next to them, to make sure that they don’t drown. While this may seem like common sense, I can see the safety issues falling through the cracks, and some unfortunate child potentially paying the price.

To be fair, I could see some very specialized uses for this, in certain training scenarios, or experiences that could be provided. They could give units to water parks with various experiences around swimming, flying, or weightlessness. However, they would have to be in supervised environments.

This is also aside from one practical issue of potentially getting your phone ruined due to a failed seal, or incorrect installation.

I really wonder why anyone would want to bring this to market? It seems like a massive liability to me. I wonder if their insurance company will end up killing it?

UPDATE: They ended up pulling the Kickstarter before it completed.

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