Dave Cole wants everyone to play with the dolphins. But most people will never make it to the areas in Florida, Mexico, and the Bahamas where human-dolphin swim facilities exist. So he and his friends (who call themselves a band of "hard-rocking neuroscientists") have developed an elegant way of bringing the dolphin swim experience to people everywhere.

CyberFin, the Dolphin Swim Simulator, isn't the standard "shoot-em-up" VR we've all grown so bored with. No clunky headmounts or uncomfortable chairs or motion sickness headaches - CyberFin qualifies as the first VR that's at least as comfortable as it is enticing. Lying back, on a heated "vibrasonic table", floating on a sea of viscous, acoustic gel somewhere between a waterbed and a lava lamp, CyberFin resembles nothing so much as a sophisticated speaker system. Add ultrasonic transducers (nicknamed "Neurophones") on the cranium and conventional headphones with binaural sound, and suddenly CyberFin can express what sound "feels" like to a dolphin.

Dolphins have sophisticated hearing; they can stun prey with powerful sonic blasts, they can even recognize the names of their friends. As with most sea creatures, their ear has been emphasized over the eye. CyberFin brings this expanded ear to human beings; coupled to the vibrasonic table, the experience is somatic, not visual - dolphin clicks feel more like a massage than a message. Low frequency sound waves pass through the body like an irresistable force, and, floating on a warm sea, it becomes easy to daydream that you really are playing with the pod, somewhere off the Florida Keys...

People seem more than ready to participate in an immersive experience that isn't invasive; unlike the "borg" VR of CyberMind or BattleTech, CyberFin drew more women than men to its debut at SIGGRAPH '94. That itself is a first for VR, and may be an indication that VR has a better future in endorphins than in adrenaline. Like Ms. Pac Man, the first video game that broke the gender barrier, CyberFin may be a coming of age for VR, a simulation without amputation.

Conceived and executed more as "proof-of-concept" than as finished product, Cole now finds himself inundated by serious requests for CyberFin installations from all across the world; soon the Cancun Convention Center, in Mexico, will sport six CyberFin simulators, others should be appearing on the West Coast before Yuletide. CyberFin probably won't be hard to find - one well-known proprietor of a chain of VR arcades was heard to quip, "We can charge more than five bucks for this!"

Guess it must be pretty good.

Mark D. Pesce