Power couple: Mixed reality will help businesses cash in on both AR and VR

Power couple: Mixed reality will help businesses cash in on both AR and VR

By Lisa Peyton, , originally published on Venturebeat.com

Historically, VR and AR have been seen as two separate technologies both having unique case uses. VR has been embraced by gaming enthusiasts as a way to make their gameplay more immersive and relies on a display that is worn over the eyes, tricking the mind into believing it is somewhere else. AR uses a transparent display and overlays data onto a real-world setting, thereby enhancing a user’s interaction with their environment in real-time. These differing displays and approaches to how a user experiences the digital content have led to disparate teams working on each.

A group of AR and VR devs gathered around a modern conference table on a sunny afternoon in the English town of Milton Keynes, all eyes are on the man in the helmet. Joachim Latta, IT tech innovator from BMW, is like a kid in a candy store using the DAQRI Smart Helmet for the first time. By using a gaze-based interface and subtle head movements, he’s able to easily access and activate several menu features such as thermal heat mapping and instant video capture.

Above: Joachim Latta, IT Tech Manager from BMW, experiencing the DAQRI Smart Helmet™ at TSC’s Innovation Lab outside of London.

The DAQRI demo is the first of many commercial AR and VR experiences planned for this motley crew of tech enthusiasts and experts including DAQRI’s International VP and General Manager, the Director of Glasgow’s School of Art’s School of Simulation and Visualization and our host, Ryan Johnston, GIS Engineer at Transport Systems Catapult.  The goal of the meeting is to break down the silo between current commercial VR and AR projects in order to enable innovation across both platforms for the business applications of the future.

The idea of mixed reality, or combining both AR and VR into a singular experience, has become a hot topic. The most vocal company boasting the potential of mixed reality is Microsoft, who just launched their Windows 10 Mixed Reality Operating System along with an MR headset. This is directly targeted at consumers, is primarily a VR device integrating Hololens advanced tracking and mapping features and requires the user be tethered to a PC. Apple has also developed a platform for their iOS called ARKit which will equip new iPhones with the technology to overlay digital information onto the real world. This would allow innovative developers to create MR apps that could function via a smartphone.

Both of these are ‘MR light’ solutions stripped of the more robust features required for commercial applications, in order to hit a consumer-friendly price point. Higher end, commercial AR and VR developers not beholden to the price constraints of a consumer audience hope to further extend the potential of MR by joining forces to provide a more robust commercial solution.

Above: Goldman Sachs’ AR investment projections

One such AR developer, DAQRI, has developed an AR product line that includes the DAQRI Smart Helmet, DAQRI Smart Glasses and an automotive heads-up display (HUD) that projects information onto automobile windshields. Their current focus is manufacturing and engineering however the applications for their technology are endless. According to Sweeney, “We are focused on industrial applications today as we can solve problems for people in the workplace. Analysts are predicting that 40 to 50 percent of the AR and VR market will be in the industrial workplace sector, so that’s the space we’re looking at.”

However, Sweeney recognizes that there is a pull from adjacent markets, as “DAQRI’s professional grade AR products are a great solution for early adopters in other sectors, as they experiment with their immersive technology strategies”. Goldman Sachs investment research predicts that the entire AR market will climb to over 20 billion dollars by 2022 with the top growth areas including enterprise and AEC, consumer and automotive. For DAQRI, partnering with companies like Transport Systems Catapult will help them better serve these markets.

Transport Systems Catapult is based just outside of London and is a government funded organization designed to help drive innovation and growth in the transport and mobility space. One of ten such programs around the UK, TSC works alongside other programs focusing on a wide variety of sectors including smart cities, offshore renewable energy, digital innovation, cell and gene therapy and high value manufacturing. TSC’s innovation lab at Milton Keynes houses cutting-edge technology aiding in building transport systems for the future. They have developed two virtual simulations to help understand how consumers will react to autonomous vehicles. One that takes the user inside an autonomous vehicle and another that places the user on the street alongside the vehicles. The simulations can be run simultaneously and multiple users can interact together within the virtual space.

The Omnideck, which was originally developed for special forces training, puts the user inside a Vive HTC HMD while walking on a multi-directional treadmill. The result is an extremely realistic experience of walking in a virtual environment with no motion sickness and with very little limitation of movement. Mastering walking on the device is quite easy and addictive and several similar devices are housed for entertainment purposes within gaming arcades.

In TSC’s case use, VR serves as a way to introduce a user to a new environment, one that is currently impossible to replicate in the real world. This is where AR can eventually step in and potentially solve that problem. The AR device of the future, will be able to project virtual elements into real environments seamlessly without wires, the use of hands and eventually even without any type of HMD. The DAQRI headset and glasses already are solving this problem on a smaller scale within the manufacturing sector.

Above: BMW’s Joachim Latta experiencing the Omnideck as it simulates walking in a city that has a fleet of autonomous cars.

Paul Chapman, Director of GSA’s School of Simulation and Visualization, or SimVis for short, has a commercial team working on several projects using 3D virtual models to improve the safety and effectiveness of complex tasks. One such project uses a VR experience to help train nuclear reactor inspectors navigate ‘dark sites’ to ensure they are being properly maintained. These sites are extremely dangerous to navigate and allowing inspectors to practice in a virtual environment helps to ensure their safety. Chapman was also excited to experience the DAQRI helmet first hand, as combining the AR functionality with SimVis’ highly accurate 3D models could allow inspectors to access the materials in new ways and perhaps even in a real-time working environment instead of a simulation.

Both commercial VR and AR have been adopted across industries where the relatively high-cost has been offset by a bottom-line ROI demonstrated by more efficient and effective ways to work. In the past these technologies have been independent of one another but the biggest disruption lies in the combination of both technologies. According to BMW’s Joachim Latta, “these two worlds will merge together. You will have one type of delivery device, such as glasses, that will provide you with AR functionality alongside full VR functionality in your environment real-time.” Gartner VR/AR analyst, Brian Blau, agrees with this prediction and believes the market will start to see these type of ‘mixed’ devices as soon as 2020.

In order for such a vision to become a reality, our group of experts agreed upon a few key factors. It is essential to ensure that developers and designers have the skills required to build these amazing new products and experiences. Traditional academic programs aren’t nimble enough to keep pace with technology and therefore a skills gap is being predicted. Chapman believes SimVis is unique in that it brings together scientists, engineers, content and graphic designers, psychologists and a handful of other highly specialized professionals to provide the highest quality commercial VR content and degree programs in the world. There is also a need for better collaboration across technologies, industries and companies. The digital era is blurring the lines between real and virtual, commercial and consumer. In order for true innovation to happen quickly information needs to be shared openly and globally.

The Milton Keynes meeting is one small step toward building a global community of innovators and advocates working together to shape the future of IT innovation. Our host Ryan Johnston sums it up this way, “there is a huge amount of potential in bringing together people from the automotive industry, from construction and other industries to help innovate. Bringing people together is a big part of the reason we’re here.” Perhaps this meetup was the start to several conversations and potential partnerships that will bridge the gap between AR and VR and one day transform our experience of the world around us.

The Future of VR: Top 10 Commercial VR, AR and MR Predictions from the Experts at #VRWorld 2017

The Future of VR: Top 10 Commercial VR, AR and MR Predictions from the Experts at #VRWorld 2017

Last week I was fortunate enough to be part of VR World in London. I was extremely impressed with the brands and businesses that attended and the continuing advancements in the commercial VR sector. Businesses are harnessing the power of new technologies such as VR and AR to do everything from providing better care for patients, developing safer working environments for employees and creating mind-blowing art and entertainment experiences.

The Future of VR Infographic
Click image to enlarge to full-size

One hot topic that was on everyone’s mind is – WHERE IS THIS GOING? What is the future of commercial VR/AR/MR and how will it impact our daily lives. Those that attended the conference can’t deny the HUGE implications these technologies pose to businesses and ultimately consumers. Below I have collected some of the most intriguing predictions from technology visionaries from around the globe. Let the countdown begin:

10) Commercial VR/AR/MR will permeate EVERY aspect of our lives within the next 10 years.

This couldn’t have been more evident as the breadth of commercial VR companies at the event represented a wide array of industries. Retail, healthcare, automotive, architecture, city planning and many more were represented.  There is a rapidly growing community of savvy developers looking at these new technologies and how they can help enterprises and businesses improve their offerings. Two major obstacles for commercial advancement in these technologies – high costs and poor content quality – no longer pose a challenge and businesses of all sizes are eager to benefit from these new technologies. Intel is working to provide professionals the compute power required to create robust commercial Virtual, Augmented and Merged reality experiences, learn more by visiting intel.com/workstations.

9) The ‘killer app’ that will push VR into the mainstream will center on education – both consumer education and professional training.

HoloLens demonstration to help train nurses
Pearson demonstrates how they are using HoloLens to help train nurses in the US.

The use of VR for training purposes is nothing new, as military training simulations have relied on it for decades. More recently, other sectors such as healthcare and education have realized the potential in using virtual reality and augmented reality to teach in new ways. Pearson is piloting a program in partnership with Microsoft’s HoloLens to help improve nursing programs in the US and universities around the world are incorporating AR and VR into their curriculum.

Paul Chapman, Director of the School of Simulation and Visualisation (SimVis) at Glasgow School of Art, has devoted an entire MA program track to medical VR applications. His team is working on one of the most accurate 3D models of the human body ever created, allowing for complex anatomical structures to be studied in new ways. According to Chapman, “over the next 10 years VR and AR will see significant improvements in display resolution, field of view, interaction technologies and device ergonomics. VR and AR will become standard issue in classrooms and, due to the improved quality of the devices, we’ll be feeling less nauseous and able to use them for extended periods. Their use will become as common and accepted as the use of smart phones today.”

8) Social VR or AR platforms that are built to help users interact and communicate with each other in new ways will be the driving force behind mainstream adoption.

It’s no secret that Facebook is investing heavily in social VR and the platform just launched ‘Facebook Spaces’ – a virtual space to spend time remotely with distant friends. Given Facebook’s global reach, their support of using VR technology to connect with friends could help bring such activities to the masses. There are also several other companies banking on the power of social VR, such as High Fidelity and AltspaceVR.

7) VR and AR for commercial purposes like shopping, workplace collaboration, navigation, transportation and healthcare will make the technology so commonplace that 3D entertainment will be forced to innovate.

Currently VR technology is so new that businesses can rely on that factor alone to help create engaging and entertaining experiences. The potential for dramatically improving film and theater viewing experiences with the help of VR is just taking shape and will continue to develop over the next decade. However, as VR and AR become more commonplace commercially, directors and content developers will need to work harder to continue to immerse their audience. The novelty of these technologies will wear off and content will need to rely more on the substance and story instead of the method of delivery.

Vicon, a company dedicated to 3D motion capture, is providing the technology to shape the future of 3D entertainment. Their applications helped produce an updated, VR inspired version of The Tempest, giving the public a glimpse of the immersive entertainment experiences of the future.

6) Virtual or holographic home goods, apparel and footwear using AR and VR in-home, will become the primary means by which consumers purchase and customize their products.

H & M presentation at VR World
Peter Hagström from H&M IT Labs presents to a packed house at VR World.

One of the most inspiring sessions of the entire conference was presented by H&M’s Innovation Evangelist, Peter Hagström. He showed impressive video footage of how H&M have leveraged the power of VR to optimize the design process, even allowing designers to ‘feel’ the weight and drape of virtual fabrics. When asked if eventually these design innovations would make its way into the hands of consumers, Hagström indicated they were moving in that direction and exploring those options, however he warned that the hardware needs to evolve for fashion consumers to embrace the new technology, “as we in HM IT Labs look at the future around VR / AR, we see that it will develop and help customers in the omni channel experience. We also see that this will help the fashion industry to become both more sustainable and more productive in the development and design phase. Right now we see a challenge in the IT industry that the Hardware is not there yet, it doesn’t fit the fashion world.”

5) Commuting to work will be a thing of the past, as your virtual workplace will be ‘commuting’ to you.

With the help of VR and AR, it will no longer become necessary to be in a physical location to get work done. Advanced collaboration tools have already made it possible for engineers and designers to work remotely on 3D models and as the advancements continue, more and more companies will go ‘virtual’.

4) Virtual social networks will enable hyper-realistic and safe dating environments making face-to-face ‘blind dates’ a thing of the past.

Online dating has become a billion dollar business and more and more couples are meeting via online apps. With improvements in resolution quality and the ability to eventually project a lifelike representation of yourself into any environment, the potential to from fully digital relationships increases. Creative Director and Digital Media specialist, Dirk Singer, attended VR World and sees the potential in this new form of dating, “It’s an area that’s ripe for exploitation by major players such as match.com.  Hold a virtual date before you meet for a real date.  Create an avatar in an online world or platform and spend an evening or afternoon with that person before deciding to meet in real life.  It takes the pressure out of that first date and gives both parties a chance to get to know each other in a kind of instant message and face to face meeting half way house.”

3) The integration of drone technology, VR, AR and AI will allow for the creation and operation of fully autonomous factories in previously uninhabitable locations.

Click & Links demonstration at VR World
Clicks and Links demos their VR model of a complex construction site.

Companies are already using drone technology coupled with VR modeling to improve and streamline the construction of complex structures. Clicks and Links is working within the UK to help build a process to repair structural damage to sites difficult to access, such as underground tunnels. They utilize drone technology to take a 3D image of the space and then create a VR model that can be used to plan and practice repairs. It’s not that hard to imagine eventually building entire structures remotely that could house fully automated systems.

2) AI coupled with merged reality will produce housing cost efficiencies and improved city planning thereby ending homelessness.

Advancements get REALLY exciting when you begin to blend the power of AR and VR with artificial intelligence. Programs that can actually learn to see patterns well beyond what humans can achieve are allowing for unbelievable advances in data analytics. Innovative companies are working to try and incorporate this ‘thinking’ into smarter cities, factories, transportation systems, city planning and many other case uses.

One such company, Spantium, has developed a robust platform to create precise, 3D models of buildings and skyscrapers that haven’t even been built yet. Their team of developers use drone technology to recreate the exact views from each of the floors of the new buildings. The interactive platform can also be used to help design the building’s interior spaces and plan how to best optimize for efficient use of space.

With the help of AI, these types of VR modeling tools could become infinitely more powerful, eventually mapping, analyzing and optimizing entire populations.

1) Predictive computer programs coupled with VR and AR will allow users to play out future interactions and scenarios, thereby ‘predicting’, visualizing and even optimizing their own future with some degree of accuracy.

Not as crazy as it sounds, there could be a time in the not too distant future where we could explore several options or decision points and have a high degree of certainty of the precise outcome. This could impact everything from financial and investment decisions to professional considerations like job offers and even personal decisions like who to befriend or marry. A sort of ‘crystal ball’ that would be available to help us make more informed decisions and could even show us a visualization of each possible outcome. WOW!

As exciting as these predictions are, there is also the need to exercise extreme responsibility and to carefully consider the consequences of these types of innovations. We’re still in the nascent stages of these immersive technologies and nobody can truly predict what lies ahead. I’m extremely hopeful however that the benefits will be experienced by all of us in the not too distant future. To learn more about how Intel is helping to pioneer these new technologies and provide professionals the tools to enable amazing VR experiences, visit intel.com/VR.

Virtual Reality for Business: According to experts, business implications for commercial VR and AR broadens

Virtual Reality for Business: According to experts, business implications for commercial VR and AR broadens

By Lisa Peyton, originally published on Intel Business

I’ve been interested in the business uses of immersive technologies for over a decade. I’m NOT embarrassed to admit that I ran a global publication, ‘SLentrepreneur’, dedicated to the virtual world of Second Life. The digital magazine focused on the real-world, business uses of Second Life and explored how companies like IBM, KLM and dozens of universities and training facilities were using the platform to help cut costs, improve services and create experiences that were once thought impossible. In many ways, Second Life, was ahead of its time and eventually many businesses decided the new technology was too unwieldy and risky for future investment.

A decade has passed and I’m excited to see the business case uses of cutting-edge technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality surging into the mainstream. While the benefits to the enterprise, such as cost efficiencies, may now be obvious, my real excitement lies within commercial applications that have not yet even been imagined. When I first experienced virtual collaboration with my remote team from around the globe and witnessed ‘in-world’ broadcasts over ten years ago, I KNEW that someday the business implications would be profound. That day has arrived.

Why Commercial VR? Why Now?

One of the biggest obstacles to mainstream adoption of VR has been around the costs of the hardware and a shortage of high-quality content. The average consumer had no compelling reason to invest thousands of dollars it required to experience the technology at home. VR and AR for businesses however, DID have a very compelling reason to invest the funds required to develop applications that could do everything from cut costs to help save patient’s lives.

As hardware costs have come down and the technology has become faster and lighter, businesses of all sizes have been able to embrace the benefits of VR and AR. It’s not just the largest architectural firms that can now use VR to help design buildings, there are now software vendors that provide this service at a fraction of the cost. Businesses can now purchase workstations equipped to handle professional VR workloads for a fraction of the cost. According to Debra Goss-Seeger, Intel’s product marketing engineer for VR workstations, “designed for professionals – workstations powered by Intel® Xeon® processors are the foundation for pervasive performance, agility, and security to manage the most mission critical professional workloads in a secure environment, with fewer interruptions. Intel® Xeon® processors are specifically designed to handle professional workloads and ensure your hardware is future-proofed to handle the newest VR software applications.”

According to recent research by SuperData, the VR software market is poised to grow from just under $5B to over $25B by 2020 with the bulk of that growth occurring in non-gaming applications such as interactive media, wellness, tourism and social networking.  This growth will fuel a surge in high-quality, VR content that will help expedite mainstream adoption.

worldwide virtual reality software revenue share model 2018E
SuperData reports the predicted VR software revenue share by segment. For more information on this study, visit their website www.superdataresearch.com. (click image to enlarge)

Another major obstacle limiting the growth of both business and consumer VR markets is the means of delivery. There are currently several head mounted displays on the market of varying quality, including the least expensive option – mobile VR. The fragmented landscape of distributing VR content and the relatively low numbers of consumers who have access to devices has been an insurmountable obstacle for many content creators. However, the data predicts that VR is about to reach mass adoption in the same way color TV’s and computers were adopted years before.

U.S. technology adoption rates by household
SuperData (https://virtualrealityreporter.com/superdata-expands-research-scope-of-40-billion-virtual-reality-market/) reports that VR adoption rates will skyrocket over the next several years, similar to the adoption of color TV in the 60’s. (click image to enlarge)

These factors coupled with continued VR and AR technology investments from companies like Google, Facebook and Intel means that we are very likely on the brink of a HUGE shift in the way technology impacts our daily lives. You can learn more about Intel’s investment in VR technologies in my recent article, ‘VR’s Breakthrough Moment: What will it take?’. Many industry experts are banking on commercial VR eclipsing gaming VR in the years to come. Events such as the upcoming VR World event in London are bringing these experts together to explore future commercial case uses of VR and AR. I’m excited to be attending this year’s VR World conference and look forward to learning more about this exciting frontier. Feel free to follow @IntelITCenterand @LisaPeyton on Twitter to get real-time conference updates.

Several of the event speakers along with other commercial VR luminaries were willing to answer a few key questions and make some exciting predictions about the future. You can read quotes from the experts below. If you are planning on attending VR World, please reach out and send me a tweet. I’d love to connect.

Meet the Experts

Gary Radburn Director of Workstation Virtualization and Commercial VR, Dell, Inc.
Gary Radburn, Director of Workstation, Virtualization, Commercial VR and AR globally, Dell Inc.

Twitter: @VRGaryatDell

“My personal view is that healthcare is the most exciting application of commercial VR. Furthering the treatment of people who have been in traumatic situations, whether mentally or physically, and using VR to rehabilitate or trick the brain into activating dormant neurons is beyond sci-fi. It amazes me how some really smart people have thought outside the box and extended VR into areas never considered when the products were first conceived.”

Gaming vs. Commercial

“In 10 years AR will make evolutionary strides. AR lenses will provide a gateway to information and interaction that layers into our reality. Things like Pokémon Go or Google Glass provide a very narrow glimpse of that potential, but a glimpse nonetheless. In a decade Big Data, IoT sensors and ubiquitous middleware that can make sense all that information could be integrated with advanced computer learning or AI. At that point, you have a very smart, even predictive, computer and an extremely versatile visual interface together; the efficiency and transformative power of technology like can really send you down of rabbit hole of ‘what if…’

“Commercial VR applications will eventually outpace gaming, gaming/entertainment will always be a popular industry that grows relative to the overall VR/AR market. At the moment, the one thing limiting commercial application/usage is resolution – writing is difficult to read and you cannot just work on the applications on the desktop inside VR. The adoption of VR will start to increase in commercial when resolutions increase and application vendors really start to take advantage of VR capabilities. This will then progress into AR, where the commercial markets will find even more uses as it does not isolate from the outside world and prevent other interactions. It is at this point the market will shift more to the commercial side when gamification of training and operation becomes a real alternative.”

Gary’s Hardware Recommendations

“Applications that are running are the key to buying the most appropriate system. A gaming machine that run professional applications may be seen as the most cost effective way of approaching VR but this is not the case. Lower frame buffers, systems that are not designed for 24/7 operation, consumer level cards and drivers that constantly update and phone home do not give a good professional experience. A workstation machine that can run VR is a far better option for all the reasons above. Independent Software Vendor certifications are still in place to ensure support of mission critical projects, components are designed to run 24/7 and be available throughout the life of the product. This reduces errors and allows creation of VR data at the highest fidelity possible with the final output being rendered down to the limitations of the destination, consumption platform. Customers should consider that today the workflow is still the same for VR as it ever was. VR is just a new destination or viewing device – the workflow is still 80% the same, it is only how you check and reiterate that has changed until such time as we get full on ‘Minority Report’ interfaces.”

Emily Hare, Managing Editor, Contagious
Emily Hare, Managing Editor at Contagious and Marketing Academy Scholar 2015/16

Twitter: @em2345 , @Contagious

“VR is going to be most exciting around how people interact and communicate with each other. You can see from Facebook’s announcements at F8, such as Facebook Spaces, that they’re really keen on allowing people to use the technology to connect and enhance social experiences. This allows the applications of the technology to go far beyond gaming and tech. I think it will have implications for the workplace and social situations. Within ten years VR and AR will be much more commonplace and people will be far more comfortable using the technology – it will be more seamless. Hopefully that should mean that we rely on and interact with screens far less and have a more natural interface with technologies that we’re using, through sound, touch and voice.”

Gaming VR Too Narrow

“Just thinking about VR in terms of gaming is pretty narrow in terms of its potential. I’m sure that gaming will drive uptake as consoles and games are released, but particularly if you look at mixed reality, there are far broader applications. For example, there are some great examples of how VR is being used in surgery, helping to train people to carry out highly complex tasks where you can’t afford to make a mistake. Facebook is thinking about how to make VR more social, while HoloLens and Magic Leap could well be used in the workplace and to enhance stores, allowing people to try out products seamlessly.”

kumar ch
Kumar Chinnaswamy, ?Head of Commercial AR/VR Solutions, Client Computing Group at Intel Corporation

“Commercial VR has the ability to change all aspects of workflow within enterprises & commercial institutions. From product design, to customer engagement, to training, to marketing & more! I do think VR/MR based training is a truly compelling experience which can span across commercial verticals. 7. Commercial VR/MR/AR will permeate all aspect of our life over the next 10 years: from the way you learn (Education), to the way you buy (Retail), to the way you build your next house (Visualization), to how you interact with your colleagues/friends (Social VR/MR).”

Commercial VR Benefits and Challenges

“There are a couple of trends holding back Commercial VR compared to the consumer space: 1. VR content investments in the consumer market significantly outpaces that in the commercial space 2. Commercial adoption of new technology has a painfully long sales cycle (6-12 months). Moreover, the content ecosystem for the consumer space is consolidated around the mature gaming industry. But on the commercial VR side, the ecosystem will need to mature to support customized solutions for verticals ranging from Education to Automotive markets. In the next 5 years, expect these to gaps (compared to the consumer space) to be closed.”

“Commercial VR can deliver significant value back to the enterprise. VR visualization can help shorten TTM & reduce risk for products, VR can be a very powerful tool for training & safety, VR enables new customer engagement modes and potentially new business models. The challenge today is how can ISV/Solution providers create solutions which can be easily adopted by existing workflows within these end commercial customers. At Intel, we are always looking at way in which VR can adopted – our CES press event was done completely in VR! Today’s VR tech is still 1st gen – its adoption held back by need to set up complex hardware (e.g. lighthouse towers for outside-in tracking) and the need a tether to a PC. Within Intel, we acknowledge these barriers and are actively working to make the next gen of VR significantly easier to adopt within an enterprise.”

Tom Nelson, Creative Director, Royal Opera House
Tom Nelson, Creative Producer, Royal Opera House

Twitter: @tomcnelson

“I get most excited by experiences that blend film, immersive theatre and gaming seamlessly. The BBC’s Home – VR Spacewalk is a particular favourite of mine at the moment. I don’t believe true VR will be as mainstream as AR. AR will touch every element of our lives to a greater or lesser degree – retail, medicine, industry, transport – they will all benefit from an augmented layer of interaction.”

“In my business, VR has the potential to reach whole new audiences with opera and ballet performance. So it’s a medium that can be productized for experiences. Coupled with that, we see exciting potential for VR/AR to influence the process of making opera and ballet. Streamlining the production process for example. The big obstacle at the moment is that VR is a solitary experience – we work in the business of collective experiences.”

Carlos Lopez, Founder and CEO Oarsis
Carlos Lopez, Founder and CEO Oarsis

Twitter: @carlos4z , @oarsisVR  | Instagram | Facebook | LinkedIn

“I believe that VR Education will be the real “killer app” that will drive further user adoption in both consumer education (schools & universities) and professional education (specific niche markets such as industry, field services, etc.). The added-value of VR training is evident, allowing a faster learning process, fewer human errors and therefore increased productivity. We will start seeing more and more MR (mixed reality) applications in the next 10 years. VR and AR will eventually converge, and smart glasses will complement and take over our digital interactions (on top or instead of our phones). Humans will then feel more connected to the digital world and the internet, allowing for better and more relevant information (in connection to IoT services), and better communication between each other (through holographic and volumetric streaming).”

“Always accurately define the problem and specification requirements for the project, before proposing hardware solutions. One size does not fit all.”

VR’s Breakthrough Moment: What Will it Take?

VR’s Breakthrough Moment: What Will it Take?

By Lisa Peyton, originally published on iQ

In just a couple of decades, virtual reality has moved beyond science fiction to become a very real part of people’s lives. Experts describe advances setting the stage for VR to go mainstream.

Surrounded by clear blue water, a diver examines the bow of a sunken ship. A stingray gracefully glides from the depths of the ocean floor, practically grazing the diver’s face. An 80-foot blue whale emerges from the depths and the diver’s heart races as she stares into the brown pool of his curious eyeball. She can’t help but reach out to touch its dorsal fin.

virtual reality

But instead of feeling the whale’s long, thin flippers, her hand is met by the familiar feeling of her office cubicle. This diving trip didn’t require a SCUBA license or even a wetsuit. Instead, it relied on a virtual reality (VR) headset, a PC and a $9.99 purchase of theBlu software.

The whale experience is just one example of how VR technology can transport anyone from the real world to an entirely virtual one.

“VR conjures up a set of images and other properties that drive your senses to forget where you really are,” said Kim Pallister, Director of Intel’s Virtual Reality Center of Excellence.

“You really start to believe you are someplace else.”

Heading up the VR project lab in Hillsboro, Ore., Pallister and his team are working to bring VR to the masses. He believes advances in hardware and compute power enabling high-quality VR experiences are enough to finally give VR its breakthrough moment.  That breakthrough is opening new possibilities for fusing VR and AR into merged reality experiences that bring the real world into digital experiences in real-time (read How Computer Vision is Transforming VR into Merged Reality).

VR, Then and Now

Today’s VR headsets or Head Mounted Displays (HMD’s) are more affordable and offer higher quality graphics than ever before. Pallister recalls the first time experts attempted to push the new technology throughout the 90’s.

At that time, the cost was too high and the graphics were too poor to entice the general public to adopt the technology. Today, Pallister said, those challenges are eroding with the advent of higher powered processors and smaller, more affordable visual displays.

virtual reality headset

“Mike Abrash, the lead scientist at Oculus, said ’affordable, high-quality, VR is the peace dividend of the smartphone war,’” recalled Pallister. He said this explains how consumer demand for high quality, smaller phones inspired improvements in quality of display and sensor technology, while driving prices down. Those same components are now being applied to VR.

The last twenty years have seen dramatic advances in both the hardware and software required for a truly immersive VR experience. Some of the earliest computer games used simple text boxes to create imagined spaces and environments in the minds of the player. The player would type in ‘Lights on’ and the gaming program would respond indicating that the lights had indeed been turned on.

This type of interaction between computer and human formed the underpinnings of today’s interactive experiences. Instead of simple text, 3D gaming graphics of today are hyper realistic and game play allows players more freedom and agency than ever before.

Star Trek Bridge Crew screenshot
Today, graphics in games like Star Trek Bridge Crew (coming in March 2017) are more realistic than ever before.

Not Ready for Prime Time Yet?

Despite Pallister’s optimism, challenges still exist preventing VR from becoming commonplace.

Companies like Google and Samsung have developed lower cost, mobile VR experiences that convert a cell phone display into a VR viewer. Google cardboard, for example costs less than $20, and Samsung’s Gear VR mobile headset comes it at under $100.

cardboard vr headset
Low-cost cardboard headsets make VR accessible to anyone with a smartphone.

While this break in price point eases the burden on consumers, some argue that the lower quality experience offered with mobile VR is still preventing mass adoption. The most immersive experience still requires a significant investment for a high-quality headset and a computer that can handle the additional compute requirements.

Cost isn’t the only challenge. VR headsets can be clunky, cumbersome and require a tether to the PC. Even tech enthusiasts are resistant to wearing these devices for hours at a time due to physical discomfort. Some experiences also require handsets and controls that require substantial time and expertise to set up.

Mass adoption of VR also requires a psychological evolution. In the same way the internet was initially met with fear and resistance, some psychologists fear VR poses a threat to the mental health of users.

“Reality is fragile and complex,” said Sherry Turkle, professor at MIT and the founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, in a recent New York Times article.

“It demands a lot and we are fatigued. Addressing real problems begins by seeing them clearly,” she said. “If we are not vigilant, seeing the world through a lens – albeit not darkly – can be a first step toward accepting a dreamscape as sufficient unto the day.”

Although some are fearful of the mental impact of VR experiences, Pallister said VR is already benefiting industries like education, retail, architecture and healthcare.

In classrooms across the U.S., students are taking virtual field trips with the help of Google Cardboard. Instead of reading about the pyramids in Egypt, for example, students are transported to a 3D, life-size rendering, where they can actually explore the amazing structures.

VR helps developers create environments that don’t yet exist, allowing builders and architects experience a planned space, get a sense of scale and make changes before committing to the final version.

Ikea took this concept and created a consumer shopping experience, allowing customers to create virtual kitchens and other living spaces designed with 3D, virtual Ikea products. Shoppers can determine if their chosen Ikea furniture is the right size, color and style and then make a better purchase decision based upon this information.

The healthcare industry has also benefited from virtual reality technology. Doctors can train using 3D modeling and simulated surgeries. These types of medical VR applications can reduce the costs and risks associated with intricate medical procedures.

What’s Next?

Pallister and his team are working to improve the overall VR experience and bring down the cost to consumers. The team is working on a high-quality wireless headset, experimenting with existing technologies like the lightweight Depoon. It operates on WiFi, which limits the graphics quality. By using a faster wireless technology like WiGig, which nearly doubles WiFi’s top speeds, Pallister hopes to allow for the highest quality graphics over a wireless device.

Another approach to helping VR make it into the hands of the average consumer is minimizing the required compute power to enable the best VR experiences possible. Pallister’s team is looking into off-loading some of the required processor power to the visual display unit within the HMD. This would then allow consumers to buy a super powered headset that could run immersive VR experiences on less expensive PCs.

“We have a ton of Intel technologies either existing today or in development, that will improve the whole VR experience over time,” said Pallister. For example, sensing capabilities available through Intel’s RealSense technology opens up worlds of new possibilities.

“VR is not a thing that we all get excited about this year and then it’s done. VR in five years is going to make today’s look horrible, and in 10 years it’s going to be even better.”