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Ask HN: At 91, My Grandfather's Only Regret Is Never Skateboarding. Best VR Rig?
184 points by s_q_b on Oct 30, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 67 comments
My grandfather just passed his 91st birthday. His only regret about getting older is that he will never experience what it is like to skateboard or rollerblade.

I would like to give that to him.

My grandfather is a veteran of World War II, a former FBI field agent who fought against organized crime, a father of four, a grandfather of nine, and not only the most honorable, but also the most consistently jovial person whom I have ever known.

When reflecting over his long life thus far, he was asked if there was anything he wished he had done when he was younger. He looked off into the distance, and after a long while, said, "Well, I'd like to learn to use a skateboard, or maybe rollerblades. Yeah, that might be easier on me."

He smiled and we all laughed, but as we looked back to him, he said wistfully and without a trace of irony, "I really would... But sometimes I have to remind myself I'm not seventeen anymore."

This is where I need your help.

Earlier today a friend sent me a video of her bed-bound grandmother taking VR tours of distant cities to which she had never traveled. As she looked left and right, her expression became one of pure wonderment, an unrestrained smile spreading wide across her face.

I want to provide the same experience for my grandfather.

Does anyone have any recommendations for a performant VR stack, preference of VR make/model (HTC Vive vs. Oculus Rift), or knowledge of high quality content sources?

With regard to price, I am on a limited budget due to recent medical expenses, but I earn a good living. So if there is one option that is clearly better, I would rather sell every luxury item I have than deny him the best experience.

Thank you all for reading.

You could set him up with a flying harness ex: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=lYqf7pTmS6k

Set it up so he can't fall more than a few inches and he could rollerblade / skateboard around a room with very low risk. This would be a one time thing, but a few hundred dollars could set this up for an afternoon.

Some physical therapy places have similar setups (Unweighing System) http://www.biodex.com/physical-medicine/products/pbws/unweig... which you could use more freely. Which you could buy if this was going to be a regular thing http://physicalenterprise.com/biodex-offset-unweighing-syste...

Very clever thinking with the flying harness, but unless somebody has practice doing it, there's no way my sister in medicine or my sister in biology will let me do that.

We actually have an unweighting device for another relative, which looks much like the picture. The one we have isn't suited for much beyond small physical therapy movements.

To speak clinically for a moment, the user experience should:

1. Convey the visual and emotional thrill of riding at high speeds through interesting terrain or cityscape.

2. Provide the most impressive initial experience, even if that reduces long-term playability, as it is not likely to see much continuous usage.

3. Be as easy and stationary as possible. The user is physically capable, but nine tenths of a century is well past the MTBF for standard issue human joints.

"but unless somebody has practice doing it"

I've seen this with my own eyes, you need a rather high end physical therapy gym and it'll come with a physical therapist. And the bill will be like $$$/hr because insurance is willing to pay that much, although the therapist only gets $/hr because there's a large enough oversupply of trained therapists, the remainder going into profit.

I mostly saw kids using it. You can browbeat an adult in a wheelchair into "yeah you're gonna fall down and yeah its gonna hurt and the mats mean you won't die so toughen up and practice walking" but marine corps bootcamp motivational technique doesn't work well on little girls so I mostly saw them put wheelchair kids into the harness not adults or elderly.

Some problems:

1) Did not look terribly comfortable WRT "couple hours experience". More comfortable than falling onto a concrete floor every couple minutes but its no couch in front of a TV.

2) The physical therapy gym is full of exercise junk which doesn't matter if you're a little kid (re-)learning to walk but is a big deal if you're rollerblading at 30 mph and hit a squat rack or a wall head on. Or run into another patient.

3) Speed is not an issue for little kids (re-)learning to walk but the rig may not be built for rollerblade speeds.

4) Moving takes energy and stamina as you mention so being unable to be hurt doesn't mean the knees can tolerate it.

I might recommend PSVR which has a street luge game (played with head motion only) that may be the closest thing to what you're looking for. It is also the most comfortable headset by far, works best with glasses, and is the least expensive with positional tracking (which is a big improvement to the experience over Cardboard or Gear VR).


He's also likely to throw up and never want to try high speed action sports again!

Haha, well, if you're asking for a VR skateboarding game then that's pretty much what you're going to get. I think skateboarding is probably not the best sport for VR.

Sorry but this does not sound fun or anything like the real experience of skating or rollerblading.

Very relevant with VR trends these days. Interested in comments here.

Poor man solution without any special device - youtube 360

Youtube 360° Video Downhill Skateboarding VR | PEOPLE ARE AWESOME [1]

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpjyW_xdDrY&list=PLU8wpH_Lfh...

Click, drag in video to control view point

That Youtube video is really amazing. Mountain Dew VR also seems to created a really beautiful demo in 2014 on the Oculus Dev Kit. But they used lots of custom software hacks, and it appears to have been abandoned before any distribution.

I've seen the cardboard kits, and similar headsets, but I'd like to get the best experience, even if it does cost a little bit.

I don't know if it's my PC or what but all of those VR videos were SUPER choppy.

CPU limited; drop the res and the choppiness goes away (and check your browser's CPU usage, mine was eating several cores).

this is awesome, thanks for posting

Sounds like your grandpa is pretty cool dude, sorry to hear hes getting towards the end. I was watching a skateboarding show called King of The Road and the young skaters went to Tony Hawks house and they successfully skated the full loop. When they were done Tony Hawk said, "This was a life's work for me. These guys come here and do it in an afternoon and are just like see ya." Anyways, that doesn't help you with an application, but might be fun to find a skateboarding documentary (Bones Brigade) and some other stuff and go thru the history of skating with him. The improvements and the skill is unbelievable. Good luck, enjoy the time while you got it.

Rodney Mullen From 1984: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfpmO9cPGGY



Doesn't play for me. It's on YouTube:


Your link kind of reminded me of this guy:


A similarly incredible level of ability.

"Your link kind of reminded me of this guy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GL0rbxB9Lqg"

That video had me so anxious my palms got sweaty. I don't even get way when I watch skateboard videos (I skate) but I think it's just that video had so many perspectives that showed the height and I don't find that comfortable already.

I find it pretty intense to watch people doing things up high. I figure fear of falling is a healthy instinct.

'The Search For Animal Chin', 1987, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STqE9JXgKJU

With regards to price, there are many locations that provide virtual reality demos. I can image there are also many small businesses that will happily help you give your grandfather this experience.

For more info on VR, I recommend you to visit the VR subreddit, people there will help you out for sure; https://reddit.com/r/vive

Additionally, by far the "realest" VR headset out there is the Vive, because it allows you to move around in a room, which I think would be essential to a locomotive experience.

Thank you! I'll search through the subreddit, but I'm hesitant to cross-post as I don't have a reddit account any more.

With regard to locomotion, that's an interesting variable. I should have described his relevant accessibility issues. The only relevant problems are corrective lenses and some limitation with locomotion, but far less than his age would suggest. He can walk, move, bend, and lift everyday objects without a problem, but athletic or rapid movements are out.

After Oculus Touch releases on December 6th the Rift will also have room scale.

Instead of the hassle of putting together a high-end PC with Vive/Rift, one simpler option could be a Google DayDream [1] (or Samsung Gear VR [2]) and a latest gen Android. DayDream still in pre-order, but will be shipping in a few weeks.

If you live in NYC, they are are available for testing at Google NYC Pop-up store [3].

(Disclaimer: I work at Google, but no connection to VR team)

[1] https://vr.google.com/daydream/headset/

[2] http://www.samsung.com/us/explore/gear-vr

[3] http://www.theverge.com/2016/10/20/13346950/google-pop-up-sh...

I know you added a disclaimer, but for someone who is pretty old it doesn't make a ton of sense to recommend something to the OP that hasn't even been released yet.

The Samsung Gear VR is available and has been on the market for several months.

> ...it doesn't make a ton of sense to recommend something to the OP that hasn't even been released yet

1) It's available in pre-order today

2) It starts shipping in two weeks

3) You can test drive at many events or at pop-up store

Plus, as other mentioned, Samsung Gear VR exist for more than one year.

It's a different experience than Oculus/Vive, but definitely an option for OP's use case.

It's alright, and it's well taken. The cardboard setups are a clever hack, and the extension into Gear VR et al. is interesting, but I'm looking for something more immersive if possible.

Hello everyone,

Thank you all for your time, your radical and innovative ideas, and most of all the outpouring of love and support.

Although this was not my goal, over the past twenty four hours I've received several contacts from people all over the country offering to loan or donate high-end VR gear, set up private demos for free, and even help with physical rehabilitation and assistance for the real thing.

We'll have to regretfully pass on that last one, due to my sister's rather unreasonable objections :)

We are going to attempt this at Christmas time, hopefully with the help of a few technically-inclined family members. If anyone else has any further suggestions, finds any good content, has some clever ideas, stray thoughts to bounce around, or even wants to help out please keep them coming. My email is seanrdurkin12 0x40 gmail.com for anyone that doesn't have it.

The results will be posted as a Show HN after Christmas, if my grandfather is comfortable with it, so keep an eye out if you're interested.

I hope someday we may we all look back at our lives with only one regret; and, if we are truly fortunate, a small army of hackers willing to make that final dream a reality. Even if that reality can only be virtual.

This experience has been truly amazing. It speaks volumes not only about the generosity of this community, but selflessness of all of you. Thank you for helping me to give a great man this chance to accomplish his last silly, wonderful, youthful wish.

OT, but since nobody's mentioned it, I have to pick up on this bit:

> My grandfather is a veteran of World War II, a former FBI field agent who fought against organized crime, a father of four, a grandfather of nine, and not only the most honorable, but also the most consistently jovial person whom I have ever known.

That's book material right there, ten times over. Seriously. I'd read all about that, all day. I know wisdom and log fire chats and mentorship when I see it, and I think I see it here.

Recording and storage tech are unbelievably cheap nowadays. I would suggest finding audio and/or video recording systems to just get the information stored with a minimum of effort (whatever works: recorded conversations, solo dictation, etc). Maybe you could even play with speech to text (eh, maybe not).

Also, this photo I found online a while back immediately came to mind when I saw the post title. http://i.imgur.com/LzoOt27.jpg

Recording and storage tech are unbelievably cheap nowadays. I would suggest finding audio and/or video recording systems to just get the information stored with a minimum of effort (whatever works: recorded conversations, solo dictation, etc).

Absolutely; I think everyone with living parents or grandparents should do this....even if you don't think they have particularly interesting stories to tell. When they're gone, it's too late.

Back in the 80s, as a high school assignment, I (audio) taped an interview with my great-uncle, who had been on the USS Liscome Bay (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Liscome_Bay_(CVE-56)) when it was torpedoed during WW2. It was an interesting story, and I did well on the assignment, but put the tape in a box and forgot about it for a long, long time.

Some years back, I came across the tape and thought that I should convert it to MP3 while I still had the means. By this time, my great-uncle had been gone for a dozen years, and it was fantastic to hear his voice again. The real bonus was that my great aunt, who had passed twenty years prior, had been inadvertently captured talking on the tape.

No one has suggested a composite experience instead of "THE" ideal experience.

So to feel the rush of falling and spinning in space strap a snowboard to your feet and go to a parachute training school (with the giant 100 HP air fan) and get levitated a bit.

Watch a couple videos so get some idea what is going on and what goes where when.

Hanging out with young people makes you feel young, go to the nicest park out there and check it out for an afternoon and watch and learn.

Experience wheels under your feel by attaching two fast/strong football wide receivers one to each shoulder and stick a board under your feet and just go down a sidewalk at 5 mph or however fast the football players can walk. Hey, I felt wheels under my feet and the clunk of going over sidewalk pavement joints and I can balance on a board. Sure there's two 250 pound football players holding me up but its kinda like the real thing.

Finally maybe analog ish VR. Find a FPV drone pilot who's a skater, get some time at a park (like when old people are awake and kids are asleep like 6am sunrise or five minutes after rain stops when its too wet to skate but drone is fine) and put the FPV video on him and tell the drone pilot to fly the course like he's skating it, at about eye height and about as fast as a skater.

Does he wear glasses? Vive, otherwise Oculus. NVidia GTX980 is around your baseline and should be able to run most experiences at maximum settings. Current generation i5 as a baseline. I can't vouch for it personally, but the RX480 is supposedly an extremely capable driver on a budget.

However, I can't think of any VR skateboarding/rollerblading games. In your case I'd recommend finding someone who is willing to record a skating session with e.g. GoPro VR. For VR video you can go way under spec, I was driving videos on a DK2 with a 660Ti and a 2600k for reference. If you are searching for videos, make sure that they are stereoscopic - "360" doesn't mean VR.

VR sickness will be a concern with the movement, unavoidable, just remind him that closing his eyes will cut off the experience. Not everyone gets VR sickness, but it helps to prepare newcomers.

I'd also recommend:

* Universe Sandbox 2: http://universesandbox.com/ - works best with Vive.

* Apollo 11: http://store.steampowered.com/app/457860/

* The Night Cafe: http://store.steampowered.com/app/482390/ - free

* Destinations: http://store.steampowered.com/app/453170/ - free

For you:

* Elite: Dangerous: https://www.elitedangerous.com/

* The Vanishing of Ethan Carter VR: http://store.steampowered.com/app/457880/

* Subnautica: http://store.steampowered.com/app/264710/

It occurs to me that you could also look into the Aero 14[1] as a known working VR-ready build. Zero variables to be concerned about.

[1]: http://www.gigabyte.com/products/product-page.aspx?pid=6135#...

I know you asked for VR, but are there any options via a wire and harness? Something that prevents falling but lets him really try out skateboarding in a safe way? They have this for learning gymnastics, for movie stunts, so why not for seniors as well?

Several others have mentioned some of the issues with VR (need a gaming pc, not really a dedicated VR skateboarding game, etc.) maybe you can try something like the Wii or PS3 Tony Hawk Ride game that had the dedicated board?



Everyone's suggesting VR rigs, as you requested, but hold up a sec, he wants to learn to skateboard or rollerblade. While some of the VR rigs may help a person learn such a skill, most are purely "rides", with the person having little or no control. I'd urge you to not be so quick to forgo actual skateboarding, rollerblading, or similar actual, physical activities. He wants the feel of the wind in his face, the feel of balance.

Can he ride a bike? Has he ever, and can he still? How physically strong is he currently? Can he still lift himself out of a chair? If he's not very strong, perhaps you could sit with him on a long board and go down gentle slope, or start on a flat. Maybe take your sisters first and get their approval. A Razor skooter might be a good compromise - very easy to learn, but have the correct wind and the balance components. How much does he weigh? If you outweigh him by a good margin, you could both rollerblade, with him between your arms, and your arms under his, so you can be his training wheels. Again, obviously much caution with everyone's approval before you actually do this.

How 'bout a Big Wheel? If you get on a snow ski slope, there are other options; have you seen these bi-skis where a person sits and a person behind them stands and steers?

Of course, none of these preclude also going the VR route, though budget may. Just wanted to throw out some options possibly more inline with what he may have in mind.

> Earlier today a friend sent me a video of her bed-bound grandmother taking VR tours of distant cities to which she had never traveled.

Would you happen to have the name of that product, that's the sort of thing I think a lot of older people would be into, rather than games, etc.

I'd also be interested in that product name as I also think the market potential for VR Travel is substantial.

Anyone on HN working in that space with some recommendations or to bounce some ideas?

Maybe a silly suggestion and probably one you've already considered, why not just an actual skateboard? I just did a quick search for 'skateboarding for seniors' and there's tons of results.

That's been medically ruled out, unfortunately.

If someone at that age breaks a hip, they're looking at spending the rest of their lives in bed, unfortunately.

maybe a street luge on a not so steep hill?

Samsung has a skateboarding demo for Gear VR. If there's any trade shows or demo events around you, might be worth looking into.

Thanks, I did not know about that demo. I want to get the best available, within reason, so I am a bit skeptical of the smartphone + lens setups, but I will keep an open mind. Content is very scarce.

It's surprisingly good - if you combine poor vision with the relatively low latency of the Gear VR, it's quite convincing. The only thing it can't do (that an Oculus can) is depth.

I bet he would like the Apollo 11 Experience:


Perhaps he should learn to skateboard on a skateboard. These guys may have some great advice to offer: http://www.brailleskateboarding.com/

There's a problem with your use case and the current tech--artificial locomotion in VR tends to cause people to experience motion sickness. It's similar to sea sickness in that some people don't feel affected at all and others can be full on vomiting within a relatively short time of exposure. It's a natural reaction to the dissonance between your eyes visually saying that your body is in motion but your inner ear saying your body is at rest. Skateboarding/rollerblading specifically are both pretty extreme sports in terms of movement, so any sims with current tech are liable to make him feel nauseous after any kind of serious exposure. Most current VR experiences have 1:1 movement in the real and virtual world to avoid this problem, and the ones that don't tend to limit artificial locomotion to slow forward movements to try and cut down on the effects. Actual skateboarding/rollerblading are going to be pretty risky for him to try and enjoy in VR. Odds are they're going to just make him feel sick to his stomach. (Also, as a former skateboarder--most of the skill in the sport is balance and footwork. None of the headsets are tracking your feet, so it would be pretty hard to get a realistic sim built for it.)

That being said, the best tech out there currently is the Vive IMO, with the Rift likely tied once its touch controllers ship this December. Both have 6 degrees of freedom when tracking you. But right now the Vive is the only system that officially supports tracking your movement within a few square meters, and has motion controllers supported. That means within a room, you can walk around in both real life and the game world simultaneously and reach out and interact with the virtual world. The presence you get from that kind of experience is impossible to describe. Once the Rift's touch controllers ship the two systems will likely be on par with each other.

The mobile headsets all have 3DoF tracking. That means that the rotation of your head is tracked, but not its position in 3D space--taking a step forward in real life won't also move you a step forward in the virtual world, but the direction in which you look will be 1:1. You don't have as immersive experiences on them because of that, but for experiences where you're a passive/seated observer you can still get a VR experience for a tiny fraction of the price of a Vive/Rift + VR capable PC. Their performance depends on the quality of your phone.

For your grandfather I'd actually recommend he try and get a demo of the Vive or Rift on the floor of a PC store. Microsoft and Micro Center stores were both giving demos of them when the Vive debuted. That way you could gauge how much he enjoyed the experience and see if it's something you want to invest in for him in general. Maybe pick up a cardboard and find 360* skateboarding videos on Youtube just for him to experience it, if you were going to buy anything blind--that would be a ~$20 investment, and for those sports specifically you probably aren't going to find anything better on the high end systems.

FWIW, one of the serendipitous advantages of the disadvantages of Google Cardboard - is that being hand-held and not strapped to your head, it's a lot less of a problem because people tend to consume it in non-nauseous amounts - it's really common to see Cardboard users pull them away from their eyes every 60-90 seconds and say "man, this is awesome!" before diving back in. This means even though the headtracking is significantly worse on many phones than even the GearVR - it's super easy to "reset" your inner ear and head balance.

This is obviously content-specific, it won't help at all in a 3D fpv shooter where taking your attention away for even a second or two means getting headshot, but it works well for "along for the ride" content (like roller coasters, sweeping landscapes, and presumably skateboarding or roller blading down Lombard St)

It's not quite the same thing, but there are many self-propelled wheeled contraptions when balance is a concern. Standard and hand propelled trikes are safe. Some even provide bucket seats with seatbelts. There is a bit or risk of tipping in sledges, bit most people are fine going straight and slow. (Users are also strapped in to reduce the chance of injury.)

It's basically a trade-off: it is exchanging the skateboard or inline skating feel for something that is more real and independent.

Somewhat related: A while ago I saw a video online of a "cockpit" which was suspended in the middle of a big room from multiple cables. The cables would tension and release making the cockpit shoot around the room, so the user would get real sensations of acceleration while playing a VR game.

It seemed incredible and I'm surprised I haven't seen more of it since. Anyone know what this is called?

Ah, I remember that!

I tried searching for "cable suspended cockpit", which netted me this immediately: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJCsomGwdk0

Thanks, I don't know why I didn't just Google it! I'd still be interested to know whether this has found any commercial applications. It seems to be an idea with so much potential.

I guess it might be too expensive for "fun" applications.

I had a huge problem with not trying to Google stuff myself for an incredibly long time. I think it's something about the fact that we know the algorithm isn't perfect, and fear the effort required to find what we're looking for.

It's probably been offered to the military, but it looks kind of delicate so they likely turned it down. Besides that, I can't actually see anything viable for something like this; it's possible it wobbles slightly (since it's on cables), which would detract from the realism. (I've no idea if it does.)

Regarding fun, this isn't quite VR-specific, but I remember seeing something on TV a while back showing one of these at LEGOland, and it looks like this kind of thing is a lot more generally accessible everywhere: https://www.google.com/search?q=robot+arm+ride&tbm=vid

Oh - the "it" in the second sentence is referring to the thingy in the video, not Google. Bit ambiguous, just noticed, can't edit my post now.

Like a few other commenters here, I'd look into getting him a roller skating lesson with harness or some safety device, rather than a VR solution.

If you have a PS4 the PS VR with VR Worlds game includes a steet luge game. Not quite skate boating but rolling downhill on a street.

While not VR, Wii Fit has a skateboarding game for the balance board. Someone might know of a way to combine it with a headset.

I believe there is a VR build of the Dolphin emulator. You might be able to hack something up emulating the Wii game in VR with an actual Wii Fit balance board. We're getting into the "probably won't be that good" territory though with that.

A Vive or Rift is probably the best bet, but I'm unaware of any skateboarding games built for them.

I have no connection or experience with Kat walk [1], but it seems able to support a human (see video of sitting). That support might take care of your (rightful) concern for joint health.

  (1) https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/katvr/kat-walk-a-new-virtual-reality-locomotion-device

Skateboard vlogger Ty Moss has a Samsung 360 cameras and I wouldn't be surprised if he would think it's a great idea.


One of my favorite moments is Edmund Bacon, one of the designers of the LOVE park, at age 92, skating in protest against the ban: https://vimeo.com/57981966

Gosh this makes me want to buy a skateboard but I feel like I'd look like such a manchild / dweeb trying it out.

That's part of the process :) I'm 35 and recently learned to rollerskate. I avoided it for almost a year despite my friend encouraging/nagging me, precisely because I didn't want to look like a manchild in front of them. (Even worse when you wear the full derby padding & helmet.)

Half a dozen sessions later, pushing through "this is humiliating but I'm gonna do it anyway" was probably even more rewarding than learning to skate. I found Erin Ptacek's blog post "Be Coachable" about learning to skate resonated with me too:


You could see if you have a skate rink/park nearby with times when hardly anyone is there. The rink near me is almost empty during the daytime, except for a handful of hardcore geeks in their 30s - 50s who would probably fit into the HN crowd anyway.

I can further this. I was in my 30s before I finally learnt how to skate. Kids dancing around me while I struggled just to stay upright and move, but I didn't care because I was actually learning to do something I'd wanted to do for a long time. I'm still not particularly graceful but at least I can do it and really enjoy the experience!

What about a hoverboard? Maybe two people could walk alongside him and keep him supported or something. They are easier than skateboards and a similar or better experience.

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