While watching someone take flight on Birdly, a human-sized, bird-shaped contraption outfitted with virtual-reality goggles, I was distracted by a passing toddler who stopped to gawk. His eyebrows said it all: He was absolutely baffled by what he saw.
What he was looking at was a new virtual-reality experience that turns participants into eagles soaring over and through a digital version of New York City.
“Reactions are really different,” says Carly Morgan, marketing manager at the National Aviary, where Birdly opened in April. “Every flight is unique.”
Birdly flights can be booked in 10-minute blocks for up to two people, who take turns. Each flight lasts two-and-a-half minutes. Birdly is at two North America locations, the other being The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, Calif. It was developed by Swiss company SOMNIACS.
Pilots lay on their stomachs on the outstretched frame of a bird, with movable wings, an HTC Vive VR headset, and a fan that blows wind on their faces to further the simulation. A monitor lets bystanders see what the participant sees through the headset.
Elizabeth Pacanovsky, 26, and Angela Guy, 34, friends from Cleveland decided to travel to Pittsburgh, and the Aviary was one of their stops. Guy had never been to Pittsburgh before. Neither of them had ever been a bird.
“It felt very natural and comforting,” Pacanovksy said after her flight.
The experience allows each pilot to fly how she likes. Calm flights work, but if someone wants to flap her wings really hard to get high above the buildings, and then dive sharply, that’s possible, too.
That move in particular is pretty scary, though. Trust me.
Within the simulation, any billboard you see with glitter flowing from it can actually be entered, warping the virtual flight into a vastly different experience. One turns NYC black and white, and King Kong arrives to terrorize the city.
At one point, Guy found herself up against Kong.
“Angela!” Pacanovksy shouted. “Fly into the gorilla!”
After her flight, Guy revealed why she didn’t listen to her friend. “I was sort of like, ‘I don’t want to be involved in that,’” she said.
Guy enjoyed her flight, though.
“If you’ve always wanted to fly, that’s a fun thing to attempt,” Guy said.