A programmer in Turin decided to enter into a digitally-enhanced universe of his own creation — for an entire month — and lived to tell to the tale.
TURIN — Enea LeFons calls himself a virtual reality (VR) "architect," halfway between a designer and a programmer. He's also a serious enthusiast, to the point that he's become the first person to wear a VR headset for an entire month. Talk about an altered state.
For 30 long days, LeFons, a resident of Turin in northern Italy, immersed himself in a VR universe he created on his HTC Vive, a virtual reality headset produced by the Taiwanese tech company HTC. He spent the time virtually designing furniture, writing songs to be played in virtual music clubs. But he also meditated, slept, and ate in his ad-hoc virtual world. HTC backed the project, providing LeFons with cutting-edge tools and a team of programmers working from China.
"In their everyday lives, nearly all coders work for large businesses and they write code alone and isolate themselves," says LeFons. "We want to promote a collaborative project, where programmers from all over the world can participate."
Before LeFons, no one had attempted this kind of long-term virtual immersion experience, though he does recall a conversation in 2016 with Alvin Graylin, head of HTC's Vive division. Graylin predicted that someone would spend a month in VR by 2017. "He was only off by a year," says LeFons.
The experiment took place in the living room of a house in Turin, furnished in a vintage style that matched the one in the VR world. Starting in early March, LeFons spent more than 10 hours a day with the VR headset. As time went on, more and more coders from around the world connected to collaborate on the project. They began to populate his sparse virtual world, helping him fix issues and actively participating in its creation.
"In this field, people don't often share their technological advances with others," says the programmer. "But this project has an open source code available to anyone on the web, and we challenge programmers to help us build new things and solve problems."
The entire room was mapped in 3D and faithfully reproduced.
The external connections are all controlled from the living room where the project is based. The entire room was mapped in 3D and faithfully reproduced inside the VR world where LeFons spent most of his time. This allowed him to move around the room without having to worry about running into any furniture.
All the objects were enhanced in VR, however. Tapping the globe, for example, opened an interactive data set with continents changing size and shape based on the data selected. One corner could even be transformed into a nightclub, and the large mirror in the center gave access to more VR worlds beyond the confines of the room.
"We aim for a situation where other people can recreate what we did here and enable developers everywhere to join in and participate," says Graylin. "VR technology will become essential in many parts of life, so one team can't hope to solve all the problems that will arise. But we hope this project will blaze the trail."