TechTalk: virtual and augmented reality is about to change your world
I am really excited about virtual reality (VR) – the impact this technology is going to have on our world over the next few years is immense. It’s estimated to have a market value of $150bn by 2020 – disrupting and displacing the current dominant player mobile. But surely VR is just another tech fad? Haven’t we been here before? People talked up VR massively in 2003 and it never took off. In my latest TechTalk blog, let me explain why this time, that isn’t the case at all.
My first experience with the modern day VR was with an Oculus Rift (OR) developer kit at a Manchester University hackathon in October last year.
This was a nice experience – they took me through a variety of different visuals, but it wasn’t mind-blowing. A little bit slow, and very clunky.
So, it’s amazing to see how quickly VR has developed in such a short space of time. It really hit me how much value we’re going to get from this technology when I had the privilege of speaking about the Internet of Things (IoT) at an innovation day with Howdens Kitchens and Bathrooms.
They too had an Oculus Rift headset, but it allowed you to walk through your brand new kitchen design, and customising what you saw before you’d paid or even booked for the builders to come in.
Having just designed and installed my own kitchen, this felt for me a classic demonstration for VR’s potential. Those little design niggles that crop up when you actually put the kitchen in can be caught, and it lets you experiment with different styles and designs on the fly.
The difference between VR now and where it was just over a year ago is huge. The graphics are slicker, and the movement sensors are so much faster. It means the experiences are more immersive and, as it develops further, even better applications will be developed and created.
VR is not just about gaming
Getting this technology in the hands of everyday consumers will not only fuel demand; it’s going to change the way applications and services are being developed. And it’s more than just video games we’ll see.
The apps generation will expect a different interface, and will demand new experiences that haven’t been thought up yet.
The fact that a whole consumer base will be exposed to this new experience will also challenge them to think where else VR can be applied.
At the moment, it’s the kind of technology that until you’ve used it, can be a struggle to work out if it’s just a gimmick and if it will ever live up to expectations. All of this will change.
I was recently watching a programme on food and technology, and they were investigating how augmented reality (AR) could be used to improve diets.
You put the AR glasses on, and in front of you is a plate of biscuits. The AR technology makes the biscuits look bigger than they actually are, so rather than eating 8, you just eat 5.
What’s driving the change?
The improvements made in visual displays have been astronomical. The technology now exists to offer 1.4mm thick displays that can display VR content and appear closer to conventional glasses. They are beautiful things to look at, and this has improved along with the processors powering the movement sensors.
The technology under the bonnet, as well as improvements to encoding of video, has improved dramatically.
Rather than the laggy (and rather slow) VR of before it feels much more realistic, and it is getting rid of that motion sickness feeling of early versions. The technology has finally caught up with our expectations.
On top of this, the barriers to entry are much lower than before. In exchange for just a few pounds you can slot your smartphone into a Google cardboard. As more people play with the technology in these formative times, more people will realise the benefits.
The gaming aspect is catching people’s attention, but the real societal benefits will come from innovative thinking in certain sectors.
Take healthcare for instance. Think of the benefits of being able to train surgeons using VR. With the assistance of props, we’ll be able to give doctors thousands of hours of practice time in a virtual theatre without the need to operate on any patients.
What will VR in the future look like?
When you apply Moore’s Law, the processing power of this technology is only going to grow. The headsets will get lighter, less clunky, and will end up being fashion items themselves.
The objection of not wanting to wear a big heavy thing on your head will completely go away.
A big challenge (or opportunity, depending how you look at it) will come for the leisure and entertainment industries.
Why bother getting on a plane to go on holiday, when you can enjoy the most beautiful vistas from the comfort of your own home?
The same goes for sports and music events – VR could give you the best seats in the house at Wembley, without the three-figure ticket price, and you could watch the game or concert whenever you wanted.
And what about work? Will you ever need to go into the office again? If you did, VR could be used to transform your workplace into an environment more suited to your taste.
Filmmaker Chris Milk has been making movies with VR to create the ‘ultimate empathy machine’ – his TED talk is well worth a watch.
You can start to see VR applications have a big impact as how we behave as a society. I am sure that the CES event this week will be full of new demonstrations of VR potential.
I think the real proof in how big this is going to be comes down to the market capitalisation of VR. It would normally take a company several years to reach a value of £1bn. It took Oculus Rift just a year.
The future is a virtual one, and it’s going to be a whole different world to what we have today.Tags: