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VR and power tools: What could go wrong?

Lowe’s Innovation Labs wants DIY enthusiasts to strap on a VR rig and pick up a hedge trimmer.

VR and power tools: What could go wrong?

There is nothing clumsier or more vulnerable than an adult human inside a virtual reality rig. Their senses are completely cut off from reality. They’re walking, jumping, and flailing around real space. It’s not unusual to see someone fall down. And now, Lowe’s wants to hand them a hedge trimmer.

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The company’s latest VR initiative, called the Holoroom Test Drive, provides laypeople the opportunity to test out burly power tools and get an education on how to wield them–before purchasing a machine that’s capable of removing all manners of limbs.

The project, which was highlighted recently by RoadtoVR and operated as a pilot tour across several US cities, is built upon the popular HTC Vive VR platform. The Vive system can track not just a person in VR, but the full-sized, vibrating power tool they wield, creating a convincing virtual approximation of trimming hedges at home. For safety, all blades and moving parts have been removed from the tools. Yet it’s hard not to wince at the demo video, which threatens to blossom into GIF-able hilarity at any moment.

I’ve watched a grown man hammer an HTC Vive motion controller against real drywall again and again, totally confused as to why the virtual world would show him something that he cannot do in the real one. I could only imagine how that scene would have ended with a chainsaw.

Jokes aside, over the last four years Lowe’s has housed a surprisingly aggressive innovation lab that runs in-store experiments to educate DIY enthusiasts through augmented and virtual reality. The company estimates that $70 billion in home improvement projects are stalled because homeowners can’t properly visualize a final product. The software the lab is showing off here transforms the daunting experience of learning a new tool into a fun micro-game, which even gives you dopamine-drippy gold stars in exchange for properly trimmed bushes.

If I could be addicted to Candy Crush or Caulk Hunter 5000, I’d choose Caulk Hunter every time. And my home would thank me.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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