VR in a sensory deprivation tank

Last week, we had a chance to connect with our friends at Jellyfish Float Spa to try out a little experiment: What would VR feel like while floating in a sensory deprivation (aka float) tank? We know, sounds a bit counter intuitive to provide sensory stimulation in a space aimed to tune it out, but in addition to the many benefits of floating, VR can augment the meditative experience and seriously, who wouldn't want to feel like they're floating around in space?

Any VR experience that's going to be used in a float tank needs to be crafted for floaters. Here are some of our main takeaways.

Design for limited head movement

Since the salts in sensory deprivations tanks are highly corrosive to electronics and there is no great solution for a waterproof phone/headset fitting, your ability to take in the 360º view that VR provides is limited. Experiences need to keep in mind that the viewer isn't going to be able to move their head or body to look around the virtual world.

Think about the orientation of the experience

Ordinarily, VR experiences are designed with the action in front and horizontally around the viewer. But in a float tank the viewer is laying down, facing upwards. This is similar to what we found using our Yana Virtual Relaxation app at Valhalla Automated Spa. Creators need to design the virtual experience so that the action occurs above the user, instead of in front of them while standing or sitting up.

If the experience has a horizon line or ground, there should be a reorientation option to help the viewer readjust the experience once they're situated and comfortable in the tank.

Choose the most appropriate hardware

Some hardware is much more float appropriate than others. Non-mobile/desktop HMDs have an obvious problem - cords in water. Generally a pretty bad idea. Mobile headsets are definitely better suited to avoid this problem.

In our test, we tried out two headsets, the Gear VR and View-Master VR. The main issue we had with the View-Master was the lack of head straps. Floating while keeping one arm up to hold the headset took a bit of co-ordination. The straps on the Gear VR made for a more natural floating experience, but the device does contain electronic components that need to be kept dry.

Google's Daydream headset would make for the best of both worlds, but we didn't have one on hand with a compatible, but more importantly water-resistant, phone. Samsung's S8 looks like it might fit the bill, but we should caution that their fine print about water resistance does say "Not shockproof".

Minimize fogging

Lenses get foggy, but there are a couple precautions to take. Warm air hitting cold lenses is fog city, so letting the headset warm up before putting it on helps. WolfsukaVR suggests using lens defogging wipes. We'll be picking up some of these for our next float session.

All in all, VR can definitely create a very cool floating experience. It's not perfect at the moment, and anyone trying this themselves should be careful to waterproof their electronics to avoid potential shock, but we saw tons of potential.

We were really inspired by a couple videos we found online. If you're interested in hearing about other VR float experiences, check these videos out -

- by Rachael Hosein

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