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Will Virtual Reality Ever Have Its “iPhone Moment”?

Technology

Mason Carter wrote this article

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When the Oculus Rift came out in 2016, many thought that finally, the “iPhone moment” for virtual reality had arrived.

But that moment didn’t come for VR then, it hasn’t now, and I’m not sure it ever will happen.

At least not in it’s current iteration which typically requires owning and lugging around a VR headset (I mean, who really wants to do that?).

However, that doesn’t mean virtual reality won’t play a significant role in the technology that is to come.

Virtual Reality is just one part of of the equation

The concept you really need to understand is that of Extended Reality.

Extended Reality, or XR, covers the full spectrum of real and virtual environments. It is an umbrella term encompassing VR, AR, MR and all future realities this technology might one day bring.

There are several pieces to what is becoming our Extended Reality (XR):

1. Augmented Reality (AR): You’re seeing a virtual space overlay-ed onto your existing environment through a screen.

 

2. Virtual Reality (VR): You’re completely closed off from reality in an entirely virtual world, typically through the use of a headset.

 

3. Mixed Reality (MR): This is what I believe will really have its “iPhone moment”. This is where you’ll be able to truly  interact with virtual layers in the real world.

 

It may be hard to believe right now, but someday, Extended Reality will simply be our everyday reality.

For now, smartphones have become so ingrained in our lives because of how functional and portable they are.

In all the ways that count, they are a standard utility;  a pocket companion to your life.

Virtual reality headsets are fundamentally different because they can’t simply blend into the background of our lives. Not yet.

But the VR headsets of the future will far less cumbersome and more portable.

Oculus chief scientist Michael Abrash predicted last fall that VR headsets of the future will be scarcely thicker than regular glasses, and maybe even evolve into a form of augmented reality glasses that are more socially acceptable.

So, we know that one day, VR headsets will be smaller, lighter, wireless, and hopefully won’t cause motion sickness. That will definitely give VR a leg up in mainstream adoption.

And with the new 5G network on its way, compatible VR headsets will become more powerful, with higher resolutions, and the ability to use more video streams at once to create a more life-like virtual experience.

Still, even with the medley of improvements on its way, I just don’t see mass adoption in the cards for virtual reality.

Where I see VR picking up steam is with businesses when it comes to experiential marketing and brand storytelling.

Businesses will seek to create more immersive experiences using VR to keep their customers coming back. VR in this case will likely become more location-based, too.

You’ll go to an event or store, and you’ll have an integrated digital experience. Individuals will then be able to acclimate to VR without the need to purchase expensive, specialized hardware to experience it.

One of the roadblocks to VR’s mass adoption is the ‘Isolation Factor’

VR has made some pretty significant inroads into the video gaming community because of recent advances in how immersive it can be.

– The graphics have been getting better. Newer headsets are causing less motion sickness.

 

– Games have been becoming more immersive and feel completely separate from reality. With VR, you can live in the world that you play in. You can experience new stories and worlds like you’re really there.

 

– But this experience isn’t for everyone. It separates us from reality, therefore it can also be isolating.

 

– Hence the ‘Isolation Factor’.

People are fundamentally social creatures.

Don’t get me wrong, some people want to separate themselves from reality completely.

But I don’t think that’s the majority. This is why so far, augmented reality (AR) has had far more early adapters. This is a virtual experience that can be interwoven with the real world,  encouraging more interaction with others and the environment.

Plus, it’s integrated with the smartphone. And while other entry-level VR attachments like Google Cardboard are combined with Android, it can still be an isolating experience.

The path to making VR more social

Companies in the VR space are actively working on solutions to overcome VR’s Isolation Factor.

One of which includes placing an LCD screen on the outside of the headset. Curious onlookers could simply tap the display and see whatever virtual world you’re experiencing.

Another idea is to let some of the real world in by cutting away the surrounding plastic that shields your eyes. This will allow wearers to not only see their keyboard and mouse in some cases, but also interact with those around them if desired.

Developers are already creating co-opt games, where one player uses a VR headset to play, and the other uses a smartphone to assist. So far these games are pretty niche, but the ability to let VR headset wearers cast their display to a smartphone or connected TV is also in the works.

In many ways, gaming has always been a social experience.

We need to find a way for virtual reality to also bring people together.

And guess what?

A team of engineers from the University of British Columbia in Canda is tackling this concept. The new technology currently in development is a 600mm crystal ball-shaped VR display.

Up to two people wear small headsets to track their movements using high-speed projectors and a camera in-sync with the headsets.

– By using advanced calibration and graphics rendering techniques, a distortion-free 3D image is produced. People’s movements correspond with what they see on the sphere. No matter what the viewing angle is.’

 

– The engineers have named this device “Crystal”.

 

– Crystal uses four carefully calibrated high-speed Optoma GT750ST mini short-throw projectors to create the images.

 

– The images fill a Plexiglas sphere coated with translucent projection paint. The crystal ball itself is 24 inches in diameter, which really helps make it all the more immersive.

It’s concepts like Crystal that lead me to believe VR in its current incarnation is too isolating to have its iPhone moment at all.

If anything, it’s going to be a mixed reality.

Before we get too excited about the possibilities of Crystal, it’s not yet a finished product. But the team of engineers is optimistic and passionate about what they’re doing.

And they have said that they are working on a four-person version, too.

I think it’s a concept that can catch on. Guess we’ll have to wait and see!

The rise of virtual workspaces for remote workers

Something like the Crystal gets my mind racing about the future of teleconferencing.

After all, teleconferencing does have some limitations right now on the 2D screen.

Some businesses see this potential and are working on solutions.

Pluto VR has created an application that enables teleconferencing for both VR and AR. It’ll be like Skype or Facebook Messenger as a communication app that can run on its own, or on top of other experiences. Pluto lets users create their avatar, control the opacity of each person, mute mics or make “calls” to other people, even those not on the app. Pluto only uses avatars that show faces and hand movements —  for now. These movements are trackable with headsets and controllers.

With the emergence of 5G, there are going to be more headsets that require a wireless connection to produce a mixed reality.

Take the HoloLens 2 mixed reality headset.

It’s not designed for consumers, but businesses and educational institutions.

It’ll be an asset in industrial, medical, and educational environments.  A growing number of workplaces are adapting to remote employees. Devices such as HoloLens 2 make the idea of building a virtual workforce becomes more realistic.

Imagine an immersive digital environment where those who work elsewhere can collaborate with co-workers in a tangible way that makes it feel like they’re in the same room.

I think it’s going to feel a lot more natural than any previous interactions on a 2-D screen.

Innovations with VR will inspire more virtual communities and meetups

The emphasis is clearly on creating face-to-face interactions in artificial spaces.

VR experiences will be more interactive, more collaborative, and not isolating.

Did you know that last year a couple met in a virtual reality community and got married in virtual reality? This was all through a community-based virtual reality game called Rec Room.

It considers itself a “virtual reality social club” where you play games against people from all over the world. The key to the game’s social nature is that you can hang out with people the virtual world and not just in the games.

For example, you can play with someone in a game of dodgeball and then hang out with them in the locker room.

While this game can be performed without a virtual reality headset, you do  need one for the full experience.

You can explore the space around you within the confines of their physical floor-space.  People can also walk around without the use of a controller and go further using one. There’s a hub room that looks like the lobby of your typical rec center, and then you can explore other rooms generated by people by going into doors. Rec Room uses full 3D motion via the motion capture system of a virtual reality headset.

– What I also predict we are going to see is the emergence of wide-scale social media events.

– With the virtual world, this can be done and we saw a big example of the possibilities earlier this year.

Marshmello, a DJ, performed a live virtual concert inside Fortnite, a very popular online videogame.

It was a 10-minute set, and it’s an example of how virtual reality and social events are going to mix in the future.

We’ll especially see this with music.  While virtual concerts have been done before, the amount of people that attended this particular event is staggering: over 10 million people all in a shared 3-D virtual space.

The Marshmello concert blew me out of the water because it made me question my previous conceptions of digital experiences versus in-person experiences.

– Will digital events like the Marshmello concert eclipse in-person events? For many people experiencing this for the first time, they truly felt like they were there.

– And this is where I see extended reality coming into play. A combination of VR, AR, and MR, the extended reality is going to become an immersive virtual experience that truly feels like another world overlayed on our own.

Think about the shift from 2-D screens to spatial experiences

The smartphone itself may be looked at as an antiquated piece of technology in the future.

How we interface with the digital world will be entirely different. This world will become more integrated and interwoven into our lives. Developers are going to need a different approach and set of tools when thinking outside the 2D screen. The digital world that is entwined in our lives will be a boundless 360° space. New rules and considerations will need to be made.

With augmented reality (AR), we have seen the possibilities of interacting with a world through the screen. But it’s still a screen.

– In the next few years, we are going to see a shift where apps are integrated into the space around us. It’s not going to be about looking at the screen when using an app.

 

– Imagine an app that is freed from your screen, and exists everywhere you look.

 

– Spatial relationships will need to be considered once applications are brought outside of the screen and into the world.

 

– When it comes to designing outside of the standard 2D screen, designers and developers have a brand new playing field.

One big advance that people are going to notice is in motion tracking.

Google Cardboard mostly allows basic motion tracking from the phone’s accelerometer.

But the more recent Google Daydream VR headset comes with a controller that enables people to interact with things within the virtual space. Headsets like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive allow more responsive motion tracking systems and interactive controllers. More and more designers and developers are going to need to understand natural human gestures and physicality.

That will be the key to making more life-like experiences for people.

Immersive mixed reality videos are going to be blow up pretty soon

The Weather Channel has been doing a lot of work with mixed reality video.

They plan on incorporating the technology into 80 percent of their programming as early as 2020.

They call it “immersive storytelling” and I can see broadcast news adopting this widely in the future. Like AR, MR overlays digital content and simulations on top of what we would typically see.  But the difference is that instead of depending on your phone screen alone, you can use your body and remote controllers to interact with what is around you.

These mixed reality videos combine 360-degree, high-definition video and with both AR and VR elements. Since the Weather Channel is investing so much into mixed reality video, I can see many other businesses following suit with their content.

I can see a platform in the future to watch mixed reality videos a la Netflix. I could even see Netflix getting into this game. Where this all goes depends on how volumetric video technology continues to advance.

– Volumetric video lets you take pictures of real people with many different cameras all at once in order to produce life-like 3D models that are able to move just like people would ordinarily move in real life.

– Cameras must have 360° capture depth-sensing video and processing units to sew the images together.

Volumetric video is going to become trendy in the sports, entertainment and medical industries.

For the medical industry, I can see volumetric video for surgical and diagnostic procedures.

For sports, imagine experiencing a 360° replay. You can look around and analyze details you never would with 2D video.

I can see the way stories are told to be changed. A 2-D screen can only go so far with immersion.

With a 2D display, you are in a set location with limited movement and minimal interactivity. Unlike the traditional film viewers who passively accept the information that the filmmakers want to convey, volumetric video will allow for more interactive components too.

I can see a lot of potential in advancing mental health treatments

Did you know that 1 in 5 people have a fear of heights?

Now imagine if you could cure that fear of heights at a mass scale. Using the promise of VR for mental health treatment, there was recently a program conducted by the University of Oxford, the University of Barcelona and Virtual Bodyworks in Barcelona, Spain using VR that intrigued me.

There are a few reasons that I think that VR is going to have a big impact on mental health treatment.

1. VR will allow treatments to become more automated. A therapist does not need to be present. Automated treatment delivered through VR could become a low-cost way of providing effective mental health services at scale.

 

2.  By using a VR headset, patients can be more easily diagnosed and treatement can be quicker.

 

3.  VR can bring patients to confront their issues head-on and try alternative ways of responding. The knowledge of it being a simulation can ease patients into confronting their issues and directly learning how to apply their learnings into the real world.

In this treatment program, volunteers used a VR headset to meet with a “virtual coach” for six sessions to address their fear of heights. The automated coach spent time learning and asking questions about each person’s phobia.

Next, the coach guided the volunteers through a series of virtual scenarios. All scenarios were designed to address the volunteers’ fears. For example, people could be asked to toss a ball over a ledge.

At the end of each session, the virtual coach asked each volunteer how they felt. Volunteers were encouraged to confront their fears outside of the sessions as well. This was all built on an application called “Now I Can Do Heights”.

Mixed reality is going to make the “Magic Leap”

Have you seen the mixed reality glasses that Magic Leap is creating?

The Magic Leap One glasses are just part of what the CEO, Rony Abovitz, is dreaming for a new world that is layered onto our real one.

Abovitz has been talking about the Magicverse, which envisions a future in where any location has not only a physical presence but also a digital layer (actually, multiple digital layers). For example,  Abovitz has talked about the idea of digital water and energy. Another layer might be for entertainment purposes. People would be able to access these layers through the Magic Leap glasses.

The Magicverse, if it is built, will be something that is done with many partners.

It’ll be a universe that is hidden unless you have the glasses on, but if you do access the layers it’ll be integrated with the world around you.

Think of the system as an augmented reality cloud, built on 5G wireless data.

Abovitz wrote in a blog post that ,“the Magicverse is dynamic, alive, and a home for the endless creative expressions of human life. It can also become a fabric that binds a community together through shared public services. Spatial computing creates the power of place, of physicality with digital together.”

21The Magicverse of a specific place (ex: a city) also defines a communal value for the digital resources of that place and community, in the same way, that a physical place may important natural resources and geography.”

It all sounds pretty abstract.

But I do believe that one day there will be digital layers to our world.

This will be conducive on the deployment of the 5G network, however. Only with 5G, will the technology be there to transfer so much data as to create new layers to the world.

“One of the conditions to enable the Magicverse is the hundreds of billions of dollars of new infrastructure to create high-speed network & edge computing zones in modern cities across many countries,” Abovitz has written. “5G (and what follows it) are major components of what feels like a new, spatial internet.”

The spatial internet is coming

I find Abovitz throwing out the term “spatial internet” to be especially telling of what our future is going to be.

It will rely on infrastructure that will cost hundreds of billions of dollars, but I see this happening since the 5G network is happening. It’ll start in the cities first. Where the spatial internet goes depends on who builds it out. Abovitz wants a positive, decentralized world.

And I also believe that people will become the possessors of their digital information and will become the architects of this new spatial internet.

Do I see people wearing glasses in the future that offer a mixed reality experience?

Sure, I do. I do believe that mixed reality is going to have its “iPhone moment”, which will be tied to 5G. I think that if the applications that can be offered in the mixed reality have a utility and convenience that people crave, then it’ll happen.

The virtual space is going to be social, though, and it’s going to be interwoven with our physical space. There are a lot of opportunities for developers to take on some critical new skills.

At Chop Dawg, many of our developers are training themselves to prepare for the new spatial internet. If you’d like for your business to participate in the nascent spacial internet revolution, definitely talk to us!

 

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