Birdly Flies Even Higher

Something special is in the air at the Sundance NEXT FEST in downtown LA, a weekend festival of film and music fueled by the renegade spirit of independent artists headquartered at the Theatre at Ace Hotel DTLA. Amid the films and fans, there is Birdly, the full-body virtual reality simulator that has been gaining fans around the world for the last year.

Birdly co-founders Max Rheiner, Fabian Troxler, and Thomas Tobler, who recently launched their company, SOMNIACS, are also bringing their machine, along with four students from the Zurich University of the Arts, to the Institute for Creative Technologies at USC in Los Angeles, where they’ll work with a pioneering lab for virtual reality and it’s leader, Mark Bolas, Director for Mixed Reality Research.

We sat down with Birdly’s creator, Max Rheiner, to ask what else is new.

Q: We’ve been following the success of #Birldy closely since you were here in San Francisco in July, 2014, and it’s really impressive. Can you give us quick recap of what has happened since then?

The past few months were really busy for us. Right after Sundance, Google invited us to demo Birdly in Austin at their Google Fibre Venue during SXSW. From there we had a show at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. At the same time we founded our university spin-off named SOMNIACS: a word-mix between somnia from the lat. word for dream/sleep and maniacs.

Q: Congratulations on forming SOMNIACS. What are your plans with the new venture, and what has been the response?

We are very committed to the physical extension and the immersive aspects of Virtual Reality. This is an exciting time to be in this field. Our first product will be the commercial  version of Birdly. In autumn we release our hardware, which will be followed by dedicated content.

Q: Currently, you are preparing for a summer workshop at the Institute for Creative Technologies at USC in Los Angeles. Mark Bolas, the Director for Mixed Reality Research there is a Virtual Reality pioneer. The lab had another famous student and staffer: Lucky Palmer, founder of Oculus. What are you planing for the workshop?

The idea of the workshop is to enable creative minds to tinker with the content of Birdly. They will be enabled to fly through their creations. We are looking forward to pushing the boundary of what’s possible in a fully immersive body simulator, especially from the content and gamification side.

Q: You sound very busy. How do you juggle your teaching at ZHdK, Birdly exhibitions and research, and your company?

Good question. At the moment we have a summer break, so it works out. But generally I’m only half time teaching, so I have some room for exhibition and now for the startup.

Q: What are your next steps?

First we need to get the company up and running. There are some ideas in mind, but we can’t tell anything at the moment 😉