When in the realm of virtual reality, you kinda look like an idiot.

There you are, sitting in an armchair, hands slightly raised grasping at nothing, with a giant clunky black box strapped to your face. But go within that black box, into “the Rift,” and all of that doesn’t matter; in that box you are transported to another world.

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A random girl using the virtual reality consule, the Oculus Rift.

Walk the streets of Paris, and spin around to see the Eiffel Tower. Stroll through The Shire, and frolic with the hobbits. Listen to your own breath as you float in space, staring down at the Earth herself.

Within the Rift, the possibilities are literally endless.

Welcome to the world of virtual reality, one of the hottest techie topics of the year. Many are saying that this tech could shape the future in ways we can’t presently imagine.

Right here in Fargo, ND, local solopreneur Trent Cahoon is working with virtual reality from the depths of the Fargo Startup House (read about this remarkable place here.) Cahoon had the concept to begin working with virtual reality (VR) well over year ago, with the release of the first Oculus Rift Development Kit.

The Oculus Rift is currently one of the biggest juggernauts driving the virtual reality field. They focus on improving video game experience; but Cahoon has other purposes in mind.

“I started thinking about the implications of VR, if it was able to be done well,” he said, thinking back to when he was first introduced to the Rift.

What if, he thought, virtual reality could be used for education? What if he could 3D scan events and places, or museum exhibits for example, and recreate them into a new level of interactive experience?

At the time, Cahoon was working three jobs as a pizza delivery guy, Gamestop employee, and a waiter, and didn’t have time to pursue the idea. But after he got into a car accident while delivering a pizza, he decided to make some life changes. Slowly he quit those jobs, and began working more and more on his company which he called Delv software.

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Cahoon, in the zone.

Eventually he took the idea to Myriad Mobile CEO Jake Joraanstad, who in turn got Cahoon connected with intellectual property lawyer Miguel Danielson. Danielson also is the founder of the Fargo Startup House, and after seeing Cahoon’s dedication to his work, soon set him up to be the Startup House’s first inhabitant.

Cahoon moved in last November and can now usually be found working for hours upon hours on his software (which is for the most part still confidential), accompanied by his  4-year-old ball python named Tali and a couple cups of Ramen noodles. But he is also starting to make his mark on the community as “The Oculus Rift Guy.” People are simply dying to experience The Rift.

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Cahoon (far right) brings The Oculus Rift to Unseen Ministries

 Virtual reality takes story-telling to a whole new level.

For some organizations, virtual reality holds the capacity for a lot more than a walk through the Shire.

Last week, Cahoon met with local mission group Unseen Ministries to talk about the potential of using the Oculus Rift to work with international non profits. Unseen Ministries is a Fargo-based ministry that works to equip social justice causes with multimedia tools they need to tell their story.

Than Baardson, Unseen’s Executive Director, has a vision that virtual reality could be used to tell those stories in a completely new way. Through something like the Oculus Rift, one could create a fully immersive experience of the organizations they work with abroad, such as orphanages, schools, and shelters. In this way, they could give their sponsors and supporters, who may be unable to travel themselves, the next best thing to actually being there.

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Than Baardson sporting an Unseen shirt and the Oculus Rift.

“This is the most immersive experience you can give someone,” Baardson said. “It’s using virtual reality to bring donors a real-life experience of what it’s like.”

Most importantly, this could communicate stories of hope, Baardson said. As an organization that works to fight human trafficking, end poverty cycles and support orphans, the negative statistics can often be overwhelming. But when one can see how a child is changed from living life on the street to life in a home – “that is one step closer to letting people experience that hope,” Baardson said.

“All we’re doing is telling a story that already exists in the redemption of these kids finding new lives,” said Danae Moran, Unseen’s Mission Director.

Or, you can always use virtual reality to live vicariously through someone else, like this guy.

As for Cahoon, he eventually wants to continue using his virtual reality work through Delv software as a way to branch out into other industries. But for now, he’s keeping his expectations at a realistic level:

“My goal is to make at least as much as I did working three jobs,” he laughed. “Soon I’ll hire on a couple employees, and really get the software out. And once that’s out there I can start gaining revenue with that and start building the company from there.”

Photos courtesy of Marisa Jackels.

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Marisa Jackels