Virtual Reality

Virtual rock climbing: A safe way to work on your fear of heights

Virtual rock climbing: A safe ...
Though you're only a foot off the ground, this VR system can put you as high up as you dare
Though you're only a foot off the ground, this VR system can put you as high up as you dare
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Prototype gloves track how much your fingers curl 
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Prototype gloves track how much your fingers curl 
Striking a calibration pose with all the gear on
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Striking a calibration pose with all the gear on
Though you're only a foot off the ground, this VR system can put you as high up as you dare
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Though you're only a foot off the ground, this VR system can put you as high up as you dare
Additional challenges require you to hang off the wall and hit high buttons
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Additional challenges require you to hang off the wall and hit high buttons
A separate screen lets spectators have a drone's eye view - which they can control
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A separate screen lets spectators have a drone's eye view - which they can control
The system tracks the climber's body impressively well
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The system tracks the climber's body impressively well

One of the more fun exhibits at this year's fairly dry Digility AR/VR expo in Cologne, Germany, was this VR rock climbing wall game, which lets you climb around in a range of weird virtual and photo-realistic environments to help you safely conquer your fear of heights.

The result of a collaboration between Hochschule Dusseldorf's University of Applied Sciences and InnovationsHub, the climbing wall uses two HTC Vive cameras and requires climbers to strap up with a harness, a pair of special gloves (which are in prototype form at this stage, allowing the team to track the curl of your fingers), plus a headset and sensors on the backs of your hands, feet and butt.

The climbing holds are rendered realistically, and you can see your hands and feet so that you can grab the holds and climb around in a complete VR environment. Thus, you can climb around in a complete fantasy land or something more realistic, a totally safe way to work out your fear of heights. There's a couple of added challenges as well, where you need to turn around and hit virtual buttons that are floating in the sky.

Striking a calibration pose with all the gear on
Striking a calibration pose with all the gear on

In an effort to make the experience interesting for those who are watching (not an easy task with most VR games), there's a secondary screen and XBox controller that lets spectators fly a drone around in 3D space to choose their own camera angle on the climber.

A separate screen lets spectators have a drone's eye view - which they can control
A separate screen lets spectators have a drone's eye view - which they can control

The team tells us they're hoping to develop the system to work with climbing treadmills, so climbers can get up a lot higher than they can on a static wall like the one being used today. That's when the sense of height will really come in handy, but such a system won't come cheap, so it's likely only to show up in swanky climbing gyms that have got a bit of cash to splash to present something out of the ordinary.

Source: InnovationsHub

2 comments
Trylon
There's nothing wrong with a fear of heights. It's a perfectly useful survival instinct. More people have died from trying to demonstrate their fearlessness than have died from fear. The BASE jumper at El Capitan in 1999 comes to mind. She tried to show how safe that sport is with a protest jump, and ironically ended up smashing into the ground.
Brian M
@Trylon Would perhaps say a respect rather than a fear of heights is a very sensible thing, a phobia definitely isn't! If you climb its likely that you don't have a phobia, but may well have a worry about how you will react when high up. It would be good to be able to learn to control any natural fear before climbing so you are relaxed and don't make mistakes because of a sudden panic attack or not concentrating on the climb - which can be just as dangerous as having no fear! Love to try this - hopeful coming to a bolder climb near me!