Birdly: A bird flight simulator

Remember having those wonderful dreams as a child where you could fly?

This is how it worked in my dreams: I could at any time start flapping my human-arms, really, REALLY hard—no HARDER!—and I would gradually start to levitate. Once I got to a certain altitude, I could tip my body forward and fly in any direction, at any speed. And I would go as fast as humanly—or “birdly”—possible. Waking up from those dreams to find that I couldn’t really fly was always a huge disappointment.

What was so magical about those dreams? 

Most obviously, I was able to do something that I couldn’t do in real life. I was not limited by my biology. It was like having a magical power—like being able to teleport (I had that dream too). But it wasn’t just that. The actual sensation of flying was special too. Soaring high above regular life (“look at all those tiny people below!”), achieving incredible speeds with the cool wind in my face. And feeling free. Free, even, of gravity. Weightless.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have those dreams anymore. Maybe because that age of innocence, where anything seemed possible, is gone.

But now, thanks to Birdly, you can once again experience that thrilling sensation…this time in real life.


Birdly is an art installation designed to simulate bird flight. It is made possible by Oculus Rift, an affordable virtual reality headset primarily used by 3D game developers. The user lies down on the installation in a “spread-eagle” position. The arms lay on top of jointed “wings”, which the user can “flap”. The movements of the wings are fed into the flight model of the bird in order to realistically control its flight path. A 3D virtual landscape, from a bird’s perspective, is displayed to the user via headset. To heighten the realism of the experience, the user is also given sound, wind, and even scent feedback: The user hears the sound of the roaring wind around him as well as the flapping of his own wings; A front-facing fan blows air in the face so that this wind can be not only heard but felt; and scents corresponding to the landscape below (like a forest of pines) are also provided.

Birdly was designed by the Institute for Design Research at the Zurich University for the Arts. It seems to be on tour; it made an appearance in San Francisco in July. Hopefully it will be coming to a town near you soon!

Screenshot, pastoral landscape. (Image courtesy Birdly.)
Screenshot, cityscape. (Image courtesy Birdly.)