In December 2021, Diver-X launched a Kickstarter to develop a virtual reality headset highly reminiscent of the Sword Art Online franchise's NerveGear. While the technology that was pitched to fans across the world did not offer the brain-computer interface that can be seen in the famous isekai anime, it would present an alternative method of entering a variety of metaverses.
Today, nearly every VR system requires users to strap on a headset to receive the best possible fit and image clarity. However, unlike Kirito, Asuna and the gang in Sword Art Online, many real-life games, apps and experiences necessitate movement to interact with elements in a virtual world. This can pose several problems for people who have small homes, disabilities or for those who simply want to relax.
Diver-X’s HalfDive sought to create a more “passive experience” whereby, as in the anime, a person can lie down to connect with the device. Users' heads are cradled within HalfDive’s frame rather than being tightly fixed in place, and they are able to navigate around virtual worlds by turning the headset, using foot and handheld controllers.
While gamers have become accustomed to using standard controllers, interacting with virtual objects through the use of one’s feet is still a relatively unexplored concept. The release of the Virtuix Omni One VR treadmill has excited enthusiasts with the possibility of greater in-game immersion. HalfDive’s strap-on feet sensors attempt to achieve a similar state of full-body control but in a less energetic fashion. By tilting an ankle either left, right, up or down the user can move, turn around and even crouch within a virtual environment.
Most VR headsets need to be compact and lightweight so users have greater mobility and comfort. However, as Diver-X was not concerned about this feature, it was able to increase its device's capabilities. A range of expansion modules were planned for HalfDive’s release, which would range from vibrational and force feedback (enabling users to feel the weight and impact of objects) to the inclusion of fans to simulate wind.
The headset's optical hardware would be another impressive feature, including ten aspherical lenses which had approximately a 134 degree angle of view (AOV). To put it simply, the lenses move up and down, allowing users to have multiple focusing distances. This technology simulates how the human eye focuses in real life, which makes in-game objects look even more realistic -- not unlike Kirito and co.'s experiences in their various virtual worlds.
However, after just a month of the Kickstarter's launch, Diver-X announced it would be pulling the plug on HalfDive. Although the company raised over ¥23,000,000, exceeding its goal of ¥20,000,000 (approximately $176,000), several concerns were cited that led the project to be withdrawn.
Yamato Sakoda, CEO of Diver-X, would explain in an open letter to Diver-X’s supporters the reasons for HalfDive’s sudden cancellation. These ranged from the product being too niche, to the company's difficulties with scalability and cash flow.
Sakoda commented that: “We were faced with the brutal reality that no matter how optimized and multifunctional our device may be for use in sleeping-posture, it is only a replacement of existing VR devices and not yet an interface that brings innovative experiences.”
Despite these setbacks, Diver-X maintains that it’s still dedicated to developing “full dive” technology that emphasizes in-bed immersion. Sakoda made sure to reassure his supporters that the company’s current priority is to improve its “cash flow and organizational structure” and that everyone who had donated to the Kickstarter would not be charged.
While many virtual reality and Sword Art Online fans have undoubtedly been disappointed by this news, it doesn’t mean the dream of entering fantastical worlds while lying down in the comfort of one's own bed is over. There is still hope that the premise will be developed and released by Diver-X, although this is probably unlikely considering its recent failures.
HalfDive’s concept, while niche, does have practical applications worthy of further investigation. However, the device has often been the subject of ridicule by VR commentators; while some criticisms have stemmed from a fear of change, many are understandable. Ultimately, the device is a little ahead of its time. The reason why the NerveGear within SAO was viable in the anime is because its users were able to interact with in-game mechanics and environments without the use of their physical body. Since this is currently not possible, HalfDive’s functionality remains extremely limited.
Today, the majority of VR games and applications have been built with the expectation that users are both capable and willing to move around their homes. This is what makes VR so entertaining for many; however, this aspect will likely become a novelty as people accustom themselves with this technology. Exercising can be an enjoyable pastime, but most will want to enter virtual worlds without running a half-marathon in their living room every time they play a game. As people begin to spend more of their waking hours in VR, developers will likely adjust applications accordingly to appeal to a more casual user market.
Although HalfDive was unable to appeal to a wide audience, it would be more accessible to those with certain disabilities. Anyone with motor issues, or those who have trouble standing for long periods of time, are likely to find a stationary, SAO-like experience more appealing. This might have opened the door to an exciting new range of possibilities for those who are less able to maneuver around the real world and instead offer them the chance to explore a virtual one.
It’s unfortunate that Diver-X was unable to make Sword Art Online fans' dreams become a reality. While the use-cases the device presented might have been niche in scope, the introduction of this technology would have likely been a positive step forward within the industry. It would have offered a more inclusive approach to VR, as well as a new perspective on how audiences might interact with metaverses in the future.
If VR is truly going to become virtual, developers will need to consider how they might lessen the need for physical space and real-world activity. As more people adopt VR and the amount of time they spend using it increases, the more it will become necessary to reduce the level of exertion required to complete daily activities. Although this could have negative repercussions on people's health, it might be an unavoidable consequence if this technology is to become incorporated in everyday life.