Oculus' Palmer Luckey makes NerveGear, a brain-exploding VR headset

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Oculus founder Palmer Luckey on top of his NerveGear VR headset, a headset that explodes and kills its user.

Entrepreneur Palmer Luckey is known as the father of virtual reality. After popularising VR gaming with the Oculus Rift, Luckey sold his headset company to Meta, who is now using the technology and team to create “The Metaverse”.

Over the past few years, Luckey has fallen away from VR to pursue military defence. However, he recently returned to the world of virtual reality to create a VR headset that will literally kill you.

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Luckey created the killer VR headset to commemorate anime series Sword Art Online. In SAO, players of virtual reality game Aincrad are trapped inside the game. If they die in the game, they die in real life.

The story starts on November 6th, 2022, what was then the near future. To commemorate that date, Palmer Luckey decided to recreate the series’ deadly NerveGear VR headset. That’s right, a headset that kills you if you die in a video game.

On his blog, Luckey explained that Sword Art Online and Oculus VR were linked. Almost by fate, the two projects were joined as the SAO anime launched just as the kickstarter for the real headset began.

“This synergy had meaningful impact on our dev kit sales and adoption,” Palmer Luckey said. “Literally thousands of people reached out to me asking variations of ‘Have you seen Sword Art Online? When will you make the NerveGear real?!’ The Oculus SDK was the closest thing to SAO’s World Seed, a software tool that enabled anyone to create incredible VR worlds.”

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Well, now the VR entrepreneur has actually created NerveGear for real. However, he’s only “halfway” to creating a full replica. As he states, “The bad news is that so far, I have only figured out the half that kills you. The perfect-VR half of the equation is still many years out.”

In Sword Art Online, NerveGear creator Akihiko Kayaba hid a microwave emitter in the headsets. If you died in the game, this emitter would overload your brain, killing you in real life.

Palmer Luckey has created a far less technical version. The VR creator revealed that his version of the NerveGear instead uses three explosive charges that are triggered by a photosensor. This means that the device explodes when it is met with a specific colour at a specific frequency.

Palmer Luckey’s real-life NerveGear headset and Kirito sword controller.
Luckey even created a controller based on Sword Art Online protagonist Kirito’s sword.
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Luckey has decided to go further with this VR headset. In a mad scientist move, Luckey is working on an anti-tamper system that will make it impossible to remove or destroy the headset without killing the user.

“Even so, there are a huge variety of failures that could occur and kill the user at the wrong time,” he said. “This is why I have not worked up the balls to actually use it myself, and also why I am convinced that, like in SAO, the final triggering should really be tied to a high-intelligence agent that can readily determine if conditions for termination are actually correct.”

Obviously, there’s no way that Luckey‘s hardware will ever become a consumer product. However, it is still very concerning that the headset is out there in a working condition.