Walking back from work yesterday, I noticed an unusual set of chuggers - those faux-cheerful folk who try to stop you in the street asking for money. They were fundraising for Unicef. Rather than handing out flyers they were carrying high-tech VR headsets!
Using the headset, I was able to take a virtual tour of a Unicef aid drop. As with all 360 experiences, it takes a little getting used to - but then it is fully immersive. A minute-long video clip is more persuasive than a bit of patter from a charity worker.
The kit being used is a BoboVR - which claims to be the "most cost effective VR glasses in China".
You can buy one for around £30 - no doubt cheaper in bulk. The phone inside looked like a Samsung Galaxy S6 or similar. I only got a brief look - it may have been a cheaper generic handset.
Unicef have been trialling this technology under their "Virtuous Reality" programme. You can get a sense of what they're trying to do from their promo videos:
You can view several of the videos at Unicef360.com - there's an app for Android and iPhone, or you can watch in your browser.
As my friend Tony points out, asking people to experience VR on a crowded London street isn't necessarily a sensible idea.
@edent I disliked it, they wanted me to stick on something in a crowded street that would stop me from seeing around me. No thanks.
— Toby Osbourn (@tosbourn) February 23, 2017
Could someone have stolen my wallet, or assaulted me while I was "blind"? Probably. That's a risk I was comfortable with - others may not be.
Do people know enough about 360 video to want to experiment with it in public? I didn't see anyone other than myself using it.
Is it calibrated right? VR video usually needs to be focussed for an individual's eyesight preferences. A blurry video is worse than no video at all.
Data speeds even in central London can be slow. It took a few minutes for the VR experience to load fully. Time that the chugger used to great advantage to tell me about the important work Unicef are doing.
Battery life is still an issue. Even modern phones with large batteries will only last for a few hours of VR video.
But, all that said, it is a fascinating way to encourage charitable giving. In the UK, charities hungrily devoured mobile campaigning - both in terms of marketing and donations via Premium SMS. VR seems like the next logical step.
If you can, please donate to Unicef https://www.unicef.org.uk/donate/