Oculus founder built a VR headset that can kill you
Oculus founder Palmer Luckey unveils a modified Quest Pro with a bizarre feature: when players die in a VR game, the headset could turn them off in real life as well.
Oculus founder Palmer Luckey introduces a VR headset with murderous capabilities on his blog. The headset is modified in such a way that it could actually kill users. What’s the story behind this?
Murderous VR headset pays homage to anime
The deadly VR headset is an homage to the sci-fi anime “Sword Art Online”. It’s about a VR multiplayer game where players can die. In the anime, this requires a VR headset called “NerveGear.” It carries a hidden microwave transmitter that can be set to lethal levels when players go Game Over.
For Luckey, this is an area of video game mechanics that has never been explored, although there have long been sports in the real world that involve similar things. Plus, real-world consequences would make the gaming experience in VR games more intense than pretty graphics.
“At this point, it is just a piece of office art, a thought-provoking reminder of unexplored avenues in game design. It is also, as far as I know, the first non-fiction example of a VR device that can actually kill the user. It won’t be the last,” Palmer Luckey writes on his blog.
Anime spurred success of Oculus Rift
The VR tinkerer was accused in 2016 of improperly interfering in the US election campaign in favor of the Republicans. Shortly thereafter, he was fired by the then Facebook, which had bought Oculus in 2014 for around three billion US dollars.
"This might be a game, but it is not something you play."
To commemorate the Sword Art Online Incident of November 6th 2022, I made the OQPNVG, the first virtual reality device capable of killing the user – if you die in the game, you die in real life.https://t.co/F3nkP5EU61
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— Palmer Luckey (@PalmerLuckey) November 6, 2022
Luckey links the successful years of his founding days at Oculus to Sword Art Online. The success of the series helped fuel the Kickstarter campaign for the Oculus Rift DK1, he said. Especially in Japan, which quickly became Oculus’ second-largest market, Luckey said his VR headset has generated a lot of buzz among anime fans.
The existence of the Rift, he said, made Sword Art Online’s story seem more plausible and grounded. “A story that had been written in a world where VR was a dead technology was now straight out of the gamer hype headlines,” Luckey said.
Luckey builds his own lethal “NerveGear”
To recreate the NerveGear, Luckey made modifications because the microwave transmitter from the anime wouldn’t work in real life without connecting the headset to giant devices. Instead, he used three explosive charge modules, which he used for “another project” that he doesn’t describe in detail.
These modules are connected to a narrowband photosensor that can detect when the screen flashes red at a certain frequency, he said. When an appropriate game-over screen is displayed, the explosive charges are detonated and “destroy the user’s brain on the spot,” Luckey said. For his VR death trap, he uses the recently released Meta Quest Pro.
Since leaving Meta, Luckey has worked in the defense industry. With his company Anduril Industries, he builds surveillance systems for military bases, autonomous anti-drone drones, and more. His love of VR tinkering seems to have remained, albeit with results now more closely tied to his current business.