From Fortune’s Laura Entis: I’m not an early adopter. I’m probably too slow to be a regular adopter. So while I’ve read stories about the transportive power of virtual reality, it’s always been too hypothetical to resonate.
Until GE, of all companies, changed that. On Wednesday, the conglomerate threw an event titled “A night of possibility” in a warehouse space in downtown Manhattan. While the invite listed the where and the when, the what was left vague, and there was no real hint as to the why.
On arrival, it looked like any of the dozen other startup and product launches taking place across the city: coat check, bored-looking PR girls with clipboards, dim lighting, an inexplicable DJ, and trendy, if random, snacks (in this case, artisanal donuts and popcorn). In place of the usual bar and conversation clusters, however, the room was filled with rows of chairs.
An attendee led me to an available seat, handed me a VR headset plus headphones, and instructed me to put them on and “start.” The headset was too tight. The volume was too low. My nose was itchy, and the headset’s strap was definitely doing weird things to my hair. Which is all I could focus on — until the movie began.
While I can’t tell you what the film was about — something about how GE is working to build better robots, maybe — I can tell you how it felt. It felt like I was in the woods, in a robotics lab, at a table watching an interview, in a parking lot. The first scene was set in a forest. It was a sunny, summer day. To my right, there was a GE robot doing something innovative. But far more interesting was the ability to look around — unlike a traditional film that, even in 3D, dictates what and when you see something, here you could explore. Look up, and there was branches and then sky. Look down, and there was dirt and leaves. To the right, a cluster of trees. Had I turned around (which, still tangentially aware of my “real-world” surroundings, I wasn’t brave enough to do), there would have been something else to see.