July 24, 2012 at 2:19 PM ET
If you're a "Star Trek" fan then surely you have fantasized about wiling away your time in a Holodeck -- a virtual world that seems just as real as the real world (only much better ... except, of course, when there's a malfunction).
If this sci-fi fantasy sounds familiar, then good news: That futuristic day may not be as far off as you thought. Meet Project Holodeck, a project under way at the University of Southern California's Viterbi School of Engineering and School of Cinematic Arts that aims to deliver just what its name suggests: a fully immersive virtual reality gaming environment that comes "as close the the proverbial 'holodeck' as is technologically possible today."
According to the project's web page, the plan is to create the first virtual reality play space using inexpensive hardware so it will be (more or less) affordable for average consumers.
To create the sense of being completely surrounded by a virtual world, the Holodeck system uses the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (created by Palmer Luckey and shown off by gaming legend John Carmack at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo) for visual feedback, the Playstation Move optical system for head tracking and the Razer Hydra magnetic system for body tracking. And, of course, there is some sophisticated software pulling it all together.
"When combined, these systems allow us to create a realistic 3-D space that the user can freely move around in and interact with," explains the project's system page.
But here, take a look at the Project Holodeck concept in action:
The game shown in the video is "Skies of Arcadia" for the Sega Dreamcast. But the team is working on a Holodeck game of its own called "Wild Skies" in which two players will have to work cooperatively to pilot a massive airship through an exotic world of floating islands.
Right now Project Holodeck is only a prototype. But it's a project well worth keeping a close eye on. Luckey is expected to launch a Kickstarter project shortly to get the Oculus Rift glasses into production. And they alone make for some pretty exciting future gaming opportunities.
In-Game editor Todd Kenreck got a chance to try out the Oculus Rift glasses at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo and was amazed by what he saw. Check out his video below.
Where and when the public will finally get its chance to step into this Holodeck has yet to be determined.
"We see Project Holodeck as more of an arcade experience, because the space required is larger than the average space available in a consumer's home," project lead James Iliff told Road to Virtual Reality. "We plan on taking this to expos and festivals.... but in the long run we also want to reach home users with a simpler consumer system that can fit comfortably in the living room."
Roger that. I'll be sure to start clearing out a space in my living room because you can definitely sign me up for my own private Holodeck.
Winda Benedetti writes about video games for NBCNews.com. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti and you follow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.