April 27, 2012
Imagine two small rooms in different cities. Each is filled with a bed and no other furniture. On the side walls, very near the bed, are huge flat screen TVs with 3D cameras. You make a date with someone in another city – perhaps a spouse who is traveling for work or in the military, or perhaps a romantic friend you met on the Internet. You agree to a time, and decide which direction you will be facing to see each other. The screen you face will be the one displaying the other person looking back at you, appearing as if he or she is in bed with you. The bedding and beds would be designed to look like an extension from one virtual room to the other.
The wall behind you would display whatever scenery the two of you had agreed would be your location. It would look as if each of you had a window behind you. Perhaps the two of you decided you would be on a tropical island, or in a high hotel tower overlooking Paris.
A big part of the illusion would involve sound and lighting. Sensitive microphones would pick up all of the ambient sounds of your bed sheets. The scenery program running in the background would supply subtle ocean sounds, cricket chirps, or traffic noise, depending on the situation.
The lighting would be low, so that everyone looks good. The room around the bed would appear dark except for the virtual window behind each person. That would enhance the illusion of your togetherness. The 3D cameras would add depth.
Each person would also have a warmed body pillow to snuggle into during the virtual sleepover. The pillow wouldn’t try to emulate the other person; it’s just there for some tactile comfort.
I imagine this starting as a sort of hotel business model. You check in for the night, and the bed portion of the room is equipped as I described. In the beginning, you might only need a few of these rooms per state or small country. If you haven’t seen your spouse/lover/friend for a long time, you’ll be willing to drive a few hours for your virtual sleepover.
Eventually, high end homes will have virtual bedrooms that the kids will use for sleepovers with friends in other places. Army bases will have virtual bedrooms for spouse visits. Singles will meet online and decide to have a first date in the safety of their virtual beds. The elderly might want another oldster to keep them company through the night without the bother of actually living with another old person. Snorers will be able to spend the night in the same virtual bed by turning down the volume.
Yes, yes, the concept lends itself to virtual sex. But I think you can build a business model that doesn’t require that.
I think virtual rooms will someday provide elderly folks with an illusion of the mobility they once had. Someday they will be able to press the “Himalayas” button and take a virtual helicopter tour through the mountains without leaving the wheelchair.
If you know anyone who plays Xbox Live, in which you can put on headphones and chat with friends in other places while playing, you know how popular virtual rooms already are. Adding a bed and 3D video is the next natural step. Maybe Apple will get into the game after they finish dominating every other market.