WHEN THE DREAM COMES ALIVE

by MARCH HARBUT
SEPTEMBER 1, 1992 – SAN GABRIEL TRIBUNE



POMONA – The solar system edges closer and closer. A floating sensation overcomes me as I lazily drift by red, blue and yellow planets so close I can grab them. Whimsically, I move ahead at full power, crashing head-on into one of the ringed orbs. It’s a shattering sensation, but I emerge unscathed from the opposite side.

Sound bizarre? No, it’s not a scene out of an Isaac Asimov novel, but my own experience with virtual reality at the L.A. County Fair.

According to Jeff Allen, who runs the booth, virtual reality is “a degree of immersion and interaction into a computer-generated environment.” In simpler terms, it’s like jumping into a television set and picking up and moving things around as if you’re actually there, only you’re not. You control the environment you “believe” you’re in with a joystick while wearing 3-D goggles.

Allen believes his exhibit, which consists of an assortment of virtual reality programs and holograms presenting themes similar to “Alice In Wonderland” and “Jurassic Park,” I the first public tour of such a system, making the virtual experience assessable to just about anyone.

“There’s been so much press but few opportunities to get a hold of it,” said Allen, who offers his miniature theme park free of charge.

Guests can dive into a swimming pool, explore a planetary system or visit strange, unknown lands. On more advanced systems, although not available at Allen’s exhibit, players forgo the cumbersome joystick and slip on a powerglove; a high-tech rubber glove equipped with sensors enabling the player to manipulate the screen at the point of a finger.

“The goal is to be as real as possible, because the more real it is, the more you’re convinced,” Allen explained.

The concept has been around for years, but it’s not until recent with such movies as Stephen King’s “Lawnmower Man” and Oliver Stone’s “Wild Palms” that virtual reality has been brought the mainstream attention of the public.The high-tech toys are limited currently to entertainment venues, but possible practical uses include architectural walk-throughs, where future home-owners can inspect their dream house before it’s even built. Eventually, Allen hopes full-blown theme parks rivaling Disneyland will be the future, waking up passive viewers accustomed to ordinary, one-dimensional television and movies.

“What I love about virtual reality is where it’s going,” said Allen. “Almost anything you can think of is possible.”