Dezeen Magazine

Virtual reality headset by BeAnotherLab lets users try swapping gender

Interdisciplinary art collective BeAnotherLab has developed a virtual reality headset that allows users to experience what it would be like to live in the skin of someone from the opposite sex.

Virtual reality headset by BeAnotherLab

The Machine To Be Another (pictured above) was designed by BeAnotherLab as a low-budget experiment that examines how people with different social, theological or cultural backgrounds can experience life from another's perspective.

One of the tests conducted using the technology is called the Gender Swap experiment and invites users to discover, "what would it be like to see through the eyes of the opposite sex?"

Virtual reality headset by BeAnotherLab
Users trying out goggles and a headset that show what the other person is looking at

"Designed as an interactive performance installation, the Machine offers users the possibility of interacting with a piece of another person's life story by seeing themselves in the body of this person and listening to his or her thoughts," explained BeAnotherLab.

Users wear a pair of immersive goggles from virtual reality firm Oculus that display a video being transmitted in real time from a camera attached to another headset worn by a performer, who can be an actor or anyone interested in describing a particular aspect of their life.

The user and performer agree on a set of movements and actions and act them out at the same time in identical spaces, with the performer describing their thoughts or feelings about what they are doing and interacting with.

This audio description is picked up by a microphone worn by the performer and can be heard by the user through a set of earphones.

Virtual reality headset by BeAnotherLab
A wheelchair user and performer testing the headset

As well as enabling men and women to temporarily swap gender, performances have been arranged to allow people to gain insight into the bodies and minds of a wheelchair user and an immigrant in Spain. A mother and her teenage daughter have also tried out the headset.

"Our main interest through this approach is to use the Machine as a tool to help promote empathy among individuals of different social, cultural and ideological contexts," said the designers. "However, we are also open to new points of views and interests that might be offered by the collaborators."

Virtual reality headset by BeAnotherLab
The performer mimics the user's actions so the user experiences what the performer sees

BeAnotherLab used readily available technologies including webcams, mobile phones with built in digital compasses for tracking movement, and Arduino microcontrollers to create the low budget set up, which will be made available online as an open source initiative.

Virtual reality headset by BeAnotherLab
The user sees their own image when the performer looks at them

The project is based on a field of neuroscience called 'embodiment' that examines how the form of the body affects the way we think and act. The designers explained that they are interested in developing the project with psychologists and neurologists working in fields such as rehabilitation, body perception and conflict resolution.

Virtual reality headset by BeAnotherLab
A mother and her daughter testing the headset

The Machine To Be Another project was initiated by BeAnotherLab with support from Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona and tested during a residency at L'estruch, a creative laboratory in Sabadell, Spain.

All images are courtesy of BeAnotherLab.