Under normal circumstances, most of us would never experience the thrill of one of the most exciting — and potentially dangerous — Winter Olympic sports. Until now.
A virtual reality company based in Florida created an app that puts users on six official Olympic bobsleigh tracks.
“I’ve actually handed out VR glasses to try and entice people to go download our app and I literally have to tell them many times: ‘Sit down. Please, sit down. Don’t stand up when you do this,'” said Barb Wolverton, a senior software engineer with Raydon Corporation.
“A lot of people don’t understand that they can turn their head all the way around. They can see 360 degrees.”
Bobsleigh 360 is an immersive experience the creators hope will ultimately make the sport safer.
“I started to show it to the coaches on the other bobsleigh teams in different countries and they were like, ‘Wow! This is so real.'”
All the videos are official Olympic bobsleigh tracks on the circuit and are controlled by an official Olympic bobsleigh pilot.
“These young people who are hoping to become pilots or are new and they’ve never been down the track, it really helps them,” Wolverton said.
Raydon, which works a lot with human performance, including military training, wanted to familiarize athletes with the tracks as much as possible before a race.
“It’s a lot like the military situation where you have to do a mission rehearsal,” explained Toni Henry, Raydon’s vice-president of business development.
“The same thing is true here. They’re rehearsing the courses.
“They may never have been on them before, or if they have, don’t have a lot of runs down the course… We want to put you in that dangerous situation over and over again so when you do it live, you’re in a position to better respond.”
For bobsleigh athletes, a small over- or under-correction can be disastrous.
“The biggest issues that I’ve seen… is they don’t have familiarity with the tracks, the mechanics of the bobsleighs are experiencing difficulties… or the pilots are over-steering of under-steering,” Wolverton said.
“The more we expose this, the safer our athletes are going to be.”
Wolverton, who has friends on the Latvia bobsleigh team, said the app was a passion project for the Raydon team. Not only did the developers have fun designing the app, they also got to experience something unfamiliar: ice and snow.
“For us in the south, where there’s no snow, we get to have a blast and feel like we’re going down the bobsleigh,” she said. “So, it’s a lot of fun but it also is helping people… You can’t beat that.”