New technologies tap into cafe culture

Cafe culture, where people share their likes, has been evolving over time in Korea.

After karaoke rooms, PC and DVD cafes and then most recently the multibang ― which combines karaoke, video games, board games and movies ― are now on the verge of the fourth industrial revolution. New technologies, including virtual reality (VR) and drones, are being incorporated into local cafe culture.

A woman in her 30s, wearing a VR headset and grabbing gun-like controllers with her hands, lets out a thrilled shriek. While she was shooting down incoming red and blue balls, her friend has been on a rollercoaster ride.

“I thought of visiting the multibang. Then I found this VR showroom has been offering free virtual reality and I came here with my friends,” said Lee Eui-jin, an office worker, who visited VR Plus, Korea’s first VR cafe, in Yeoksam, southern Seoul, last week. “I’ve had a virtual reality sort of experience at a local Van Gogh exhibition. But this gives a more lifelike experience and is more fun.”

“High-end VR devices are expensive and locations to try them out are not everywhere. I heard that this place offers free experience so I came by to try,” said another visitor.

VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive are placed in one corner for trial and visitors can enjoy VR content, including attractions such as racing games and a virtual rollercoaster.

Since it opened in July, over 100 people have visited the place every day. Based on the success of the showroom, the company opened a paid VR theme park in Busan in October.

“There has been no proper place where people can experience VR here. There only has been a mobile-based VR market with limited technologies,” said Kim Jae-heon, managing head of VR Plus.

“The VR theme park is a multi-culture model, where the operator not only provides hardware or software but also provides a diverse selection of cultural experiences, including VR-related attractions, games, electric hoverboards and drones. Similar places in the United States and other countries have been in operation with great success.

“Combined with food and beverage facilities, it will emerge as a new cultural space for the whole family.”

Cafe Drogen, run by drone maker Drogen in Songdo, Incheon, offers a place for people who fly drones as a hobby.

In the only town in the metropolitan area that is free from flying restrictions, internet communities and bloggers can test out drones when they buy coffee, have training sessions for beginners and rent drones.

In the separated transparent space, visitors can try out the unmanned aerial vehicles, without worrying about crashes or accidents.

The country’s first drone cafe sells and repairs drones as well. The company says it aims to foster “drone culture” and plans to create more such locations across the country by the end of the year.

It is also considering incorporating augmented reality technologies into its business model, in order to give people the sensation of flying their drones for real.

Play N Share, in the Hongdae area near Hongik University, also combines the latest technologies into the familiar cafe culture. It’s a place for high-tech early adopters who want to test run all the latest high-tech gear but are short of money, as well as couples who want a different experience.

Stepping into the basement cafe that says “we rent hobbies,” stopwatches that count down 90 minutes are provided. During the allotted time, visitors can try out various smart devices over a cup of coffee.

Along with a selection of electric hoverboards and a small track for test-runs in one corner, the multi-hobby cafe offers some 80 devices including a VR game, drones, smart watches, remote-controlled cars and DJ controllers.

Visitors can rent or buy the devices.

“It is a popular dating place. University students are our main customers, but family customers are also increasing,” said the manager of the startup, now merged into VR Plus. “Electric hoverboards are the hottest item here.”

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