Melbourne startup MarineVerse brings virtual reality experiences to sailing

They say 2016 is the year of virtual reality, when augmented experiences will hit the mainstream and forever change the way we interact with the world. VR applications are increasingly finding their way into every aspect of life and are transforming the way we respond to traditional services: we’ve seen VR take on the gaming world and now more practical tasks like house hunting and student education. In Australia companies like RealEstate.com have dabbled into this new form of technology to provide customers with virtual property tours.

Soon VR headsets will be a common household item, which is a big reason why even more startups are trialing their own applications and finding new experiences for users to immerse themselves in.

One such startup that is offering a new application to VR tech is MarineVerse. The Melbourne-based startup is combining sailing and VR to give those would be sailors a new way to learn how to sail.

“I think sailing is a really popular thing to do, especially in Melbourne. There are many apps for sailing but not many virtual reality apps, there’s no content for sailing. So we thought this is a great way to share our passion of sailing with people and using the virtual reality,” said Olga Dziemidowicz, cofounder of MarineVerse.

The startup is a combination of two passions, the love for technology and VR and the love for sailing. Husband and wife team Greg and Olga Dziemidowicz decided to bring both their passions together to offer a whole new experience for gamers.

MarineVerse is an app for Google Cardboard that can be downloaded from Google Play. Users place their headset on and are instantly immersed into a scene complete with a boat, water, seagulls and the sounds of wind, waves, and birds. Control over movement is handled by clicking on spots within the space, via clicking a button on the headset. For instance if you want to change direction you can click on the water and the boat sails to that space.

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Atmosphere is created by the combining of audio with visuals to trick a user’s brain into thinking and believing they are really there in that world. Olga Dziemidowicz explained that the app makes a user feel more involved and engaged through simple sailin- related sounds like the flapping of sails and the lapping of water against the boat.

Currently MarineVerse has built several demo apps and is looking to build more to not only educate users on all the aspects of sailing, but to provide a gamified experience for users to race and and compete.

The first demos on the app are all about learning about the world the user is in. For example, users can look around and select to listen to information about each object or point. Clicking on the sails will give the user information on directions and how the movement of sails affects the speed and direction of the boat.

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To provide all the accurate and necessary learning skills for their users, both cofounders signed up for sailing lessons. All skills taught in the VR sailing learning experience have been taken from real life principles.

What will be interesting will be testing out how VR experiences of sailing translate into the real world. This translation doesn’t just work for sailing but for all VR applications. Things like learning maths and science can be easily transferred, however sailing is such a sensory experience. How can those emotions and surprise elements be played out on screen?

In saying this MarineVerse isn’t targeting the sailor enthusiast, but rather the gamer who has never stepped foot onto a sailboat but is intrigued to one day experience this. The target market of the typical gamer was found after the Dziemidowicz’s failed to sell the idea at sail clubs.

“We are going to go to clubs, sailing clubs, and then people that want to learn to sail, suggesting to them to learn with using virtual reality. We noticed that maybe it’s not the perfect audience so now we approach from a different angle,” explained Dziemidowicz.

Now we’re actually looking at gamers and people who do have the hardware to do VR and are interested in virtual reality and trying to get them to be more interested in sailing,” she said.

Another big challenge with VR is combatting unpleasant user experiences, such as motion sickness. With some applications, long exposure to immersive worlds can cause lightheadedness and nausea as the body feels unbalanced and the brain is confused as to where the body is. For MarineVerse the most important part of the technology is user testing and experience refinement.

Dziemidowicz said that during the first testing phase users were hesitant to move around and explore due to motion sickness side effects. They were thrown straight into a new world and had no time to adjust. Through trial and error Dziemidowicz created learning demos to help users immerse themselves in the virtual reality space and build themselves up to moving around, and  at the final stages users will be able to race and take on fast movements.

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“I played it many times and it wasn’t a problem for me. We’re trying to adjust the speed of the goggles that create any unnecessary movement now, and we could add a lot more crazy crazy moves but we’re trying to limit that so it can be more accessible and comfortable for more people,” she explained.

The first demos became available to users in January this year, with more to come in the next few months. The startup has big visions for the future, but is yet to take on any funding. Dziemidowicz explained that the first stage is all about trial and error.

“We’re testing on more people and sharing it with as many people as we can. We’ve got some good input from the online community already. Now we’re looking into more advanced stuff like how can we bring people together in the experience like multiplayer modes and using that to build on what we’ve done so far.”

Image: Olga and Greg Dziemidowicz. Source: Supplied