Virtual Reality Summer 2014

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Virtual reality, in its most basic conceptual form, is a computer-generated three dimensional space that can be interacted with in some way. Applications of virtual reality can vary greatly; it can take an engineer as little as 6 months to develop a fully functional virtual reality headset, or an entire company over 10 years of planning, research, and development to deliver a finished product. Virtual reality has come a long way since its conception in the 1950s. Technological advancements have made it possible to overcome many technical limitations that hindered development in the past, and now may be the time for the world to finally embrace the vision that Morton Heilig had so many years ago.

Footage from The Matrix, only the greatest trilogy about virtual reality ever made

Contents

Types of Virtual Reality

Example of immersive virtual reality in Team Fortress 2

Due to its loose definition and the nature of the technology, virtual reality comes in many forms. Fortunately, the wide range of virtual reality innovations over the past few decades has made it much easier to classify different applications of the technology. Generally, virtual reality includes immersive virtual reality, avatar-based virtual reality, augmented reality, and holographic representation.

Immersive Virtual Reality

Immersive virtual reality is the purest form of VR. The term applies to a computer-simulated environment that attempts to recreate all aspects of the physical world in a virtual environment; it can be a simulation of the physical world, or even a fantasy. Virtual Reality can work with tactile interfaces that mimic the feeling of interaction and recreate sensory experiences such as virtual smell, sound, sight, taste, and touch. It is about the creation of a virtual world that users can interact with by wearing a helmet, goggles, or gloves, or by using a keyboard and mouse.[1]

Avatar-based Virtual Reality

Avatar-based Virtual Reality: Second Life

Avatar-based virtual reality involves use of a computer-generated 3D model, better known as an avatar, in a virtual environment. With the avatar, the user is free to roleplay, interact, collaborate, and form relationships with other users, who are usually represented by their own avatars, in 3D space[1]. Often times, avatar-based virtual reality can be found in games like Second Life or World of Warcraft.

Augmented Reality

Google Glass uses applications of augmented reality

Augmented reality is a technology that is similar to virtual reality. Augmented reality is the blending of virtual objects and in a real-world environment; it allows users to interact with virtual content in the physical world. It is related to a concept of mediate reality, in which a user's perception of reality is modified or enhanced by a computer. Virtual elements can be superimposed on two real-world environments and replace the real world with a simulated one which can be overlaid on the real world. Augmentation is conventionally in real-time and in semantic context with environmental elements.[2] Pepsi offers a good example of this concept. Devices or applications that currently use augmented reality include Google Glass, IKEA Furniture App, Starbucks Cup Magic App, TOPSHOP change room, and De Beer's AR Jewelry Assistant.


Both virtual reality and augmented reality have the same goal of immersing the user. With virtual reality, the user is isolated from the real world while immersed in a world that is completely fabricated. Augmented reality, on the other hand, allows users to continue to be in touch with the physical world when they interacting with the virtual objects around them. As a result, virtual reality works better for video games and other applications that emphasize social interactions in a virtual environment.

IKEA Augmented Reality application
Tupac hologram performance at Coachella Live 2012

Holographic Representation

A hologram is a moving 3D representation of a person or object, normally used in communication or entertainment. Holographic representation involves the use of a laser, interference, diffraction, light intensity recording, and suitable illumination of the recording and hence, the hologram will not change as the users change their viewing position and/or orientation.[1]

History

Sayre Glove by Tom Defanti and Daniel Sandin
Videoplace by Myron Krueger

The concept of Virtual Reality began in 1950. Below is a timeline of major virtual reality innovations from the 1950s to the present:[2]

  • 1950: Cinematographer Morton Heilig envisioned a theatre experience that could stimulate all of the audience’s senses; his attempts to develop this concept conceived the idea of virtual reality.
  • 1960: Heilig built the Sensorama which included stereoscopic displays, fans, odor emitters, stereo speakers, and a moving chair.
  • 1964: Philco Corporation engineers developed the first Head-mounted Display (HMD) called Headsight which had widescreen capabilities and a tracking system. Headsight was designed for use in dangerous situations where users could observe an environment remotely.
  • 1965: Ivan Sutherland tried to mimic the physical world and envisioned “Ultimate Display”, a device that allowed the user to look into a virtual world that appeared as real as the physical world. In the following year, he created a HMD and had his research funded by NASA and the CIA. Early applications of the device primarily focused on vehicle simulators and training exercises.
  • 1975: Myron Krueger established an artificial reality laboratory called the Videoplace, which did not use any goggles or gloves.
  • 1977: Sayre glove, the very first dataglove, was invented by Tom Defanti and Daniel Sandin. The glove used a bend-sensing technique, which is different from the ones used with modern gloves.
  • 1980s: Sega Master System 3D Glasses. A third-generation video game console that was manufactured by Sega.
  • 1991: Virtuality Group looked to introduce players to one of a kind arcade experience.
  • 1995: Nintendo’s Virtual Boy. A table-top 3D video game console developed and manufactured by Nintendo. It was a "portable" video game console capable of displaying "true 3D graphics" out of the box. Technological limitations with virtual reality at the time made user adoption difficult. It was ultimately a failure and was discontinued the following year.
  • 2003: Second Life. An online virtual world game developed by Linden Lab.
  • 2010: Microsoft’s Kinect. A motion sensing input device designed by Microsoft for its XBox 360 and Xbox One game consoles, and for Windows PCs. It allows users to control and interact with their console without the need for a game controller.
  • 2012: Oculus Rift. A virtual reality head-mounted display still in development by Oculus VR.
  • 2014: Sony’s Project Morpheus. A virtual reality headset currently in development by Sony Computer Entertainment; it is designed to be fully compatible with Sony PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita.


Current Applications

The continued development of virtual reality creates many new opportunities that various industries can take advantage of. Ever since the first virtual reality devices were created in the 1960s, this technology has slowly evolved and is now starting to play a key role in everyday life. Throughout this half decade, applications of virtual reality have been seen in gaming and entertainment, healthcare, training, and virtual tours. This is only the beginning; as the technology improves, it will receive more recognition and open up more possibilities for the future.

Devices

Oculus Rift

Oculus: Development Kit 2

Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset that originally started on Kickstarter in 2012. The founder of Oculus VR, Palmer Luckey, launched a Kickstarter campaign that wanted to raise $250,000 by promising to send a complete kit to anyone who pledged $300 or more. Their Kickstarter campaign ended up being a huge success and they surpassed their goal within hours to raise over $2.4 million for the development of Oculus Rift[1]. Their focus was to bring the gaming experience to the next level. The 0.97 pound virtual reality headset features positional tracking, a resolution of 960 x 1080, and a 110 degree field of view.


In March 2014, Facebook acquired Oculus for $2 billion. They believe that virtual reality is the next step in social networking after mobile technology. Mark Zuckerberg does not see virtual reality as just a gaming tool, but also as a communication platform. Luckey believes that it “isn’t about sharing pictures [but] is about being able to share experiences”[2]. They plan to keep Oculus as an independent entity under their name and will not be changing plans for the Oculus Rift yet. With Facebook’s support, Oculus is more financially stable and can focus on improving their production, such as creating custom displays specifically for their applications. The original Oculus VR created in 2012 was more like the developer version and reportedly had an issue with motion sickness. Oculus has promised to fix this problem in their new prototype planned for release by the end of 2014. Consumers can start preordering the consumer version of the headset, Development Kit 2, on their website for $350 today.



Project Morpheus

Project Morpheus

Seeing the potential in virtual reality, Sony has created their own virtual reality headset, Project Morpheus. The headset will be fully compatible with their newest gaming console, the Playstation 4. However, the headset is still in development, and PlayStation president of Worldwide Studios, Shuhei Yoshida, announced that it will be released sometime after 2014. The 1080 pixel display prototype has “a field of view of more than 90 degrees, 100hz tracking, a 3-meter working volume, DualShock 4, and PlayStation motion detection features.”[3] Although Sony had not yet decided on the price of their headset, Yoshida confirmed that it will be priced under $1000, unlike Sony’s HMA head-mounted display line.[4]


Gear VR

Samsung joined the competition by creating their new virtual reality headset, the Gear VR, which should be launched at the IFA 2014 trade show in September. Features of the headset will not be confirmed until September 2014; however, reports indicate that Samsung will differentiate themselves from the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus by focusing more on entertainment media.[5] The Gear VR will be using the screens on Samsung mobile devices[6] to facilitate the virtual reality experience and will have a touch panel on the side of the headset to control movement.


Leaked photo of Gear VRThe headset uses smartphones as its screen.Touch panel on the side of the headset

Glyph

Glyph: How it works

Similar to Oculus Rift, Glyph launched a Kickstarter campaign in February 2014 wanting to raise $250,000. They ended up raising $1.5 million.[1] Glyph is also a virtual reality headset which focuses more on home entertainment by using HDMI input to connect users from their TVs to their PCs. Anyone pledging $499 or more will receive a beta version of the prototype in late 2014. The device uses one million micromirrors in each lens to reflect a lifelike image onto the back of the user's retina. Users who have experienced the prototype did not report nausea or disorientation when transitioning back to normal vision.[1] The 16 oz. device has a 45 degree field of view and is built with a resolution of 1280 x 720 per eye.

Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard

Google recently revealed a virtual reality headset where users place their smartphones in the front of the device to complete their virtual reality experience. The headset is made by cardboard and is embedded with two lenses.[1] Google Cardboard is so conceptually simple that users can make the device by themselves at home. Google has posted templates for Google Cardboard online, and also has a complementary app available for download for anyone interested in this DIY endeavor. Google Cardboard only took an engineer six months to develop.


Enhancements

There are some enhancements that can be used simultaneously with virtual reality headsets to improve a user's virtual reality experience. Some of these enhancements include Special Audio, Control VR, and Virtuix Omni. Special Audio is not just a simple headphone that provides simple surround sound. It uses 3D model motion sensors and a camera to track movement so that it can precisely adjust the sound. Control VR turns users’ hands into “ultimate intuitive controller for PCs, VR, and beyond.”[2] Virtuix Omni is similar to a treadmill where users can stand up and travel in the virtual world to enhance their virtual reality experience.[3]

Control VR
Virtuix Omni


Gaming & Entertainment

Virtual Reality Gaming

The development in gaming has always revolved around creating a more believable and immersive experience. Back in 2006, Nintendo has added the Wii, their 7th generation gaming console, into their portfolio. The gaming system features a remote controller that tracks movement in three dimension, allowing users’ motion to be used as a primary system input. In 2010, Microsoft has added the Kinect for its Xbox 360 to enable users to control and interact with the system and games without the conventional controllers. The Kinect uses an infrared projector and camera that captures motion and can understand specific gestures.[1][2] The introduction of the Oculus Rift in 2012 aimed at reinventing and enhancing the gaming experience by providing gamers more immersion into the gaming environment. Subsequently, Sony announced their own virtual reality development codename Project Morpheus in 2014 that will complement the PlayStation 4. As such, a lot of focus for the current development of virtual reality revolves around gaming.


The development kit for Oculus Rift were made available to order in 2012 and many developers have been experimenting with ways in which it could be integrated into different games. Many games have also added support for the Oculus Rift with Team Fortress 2 pioneering that trend in March 2013.[3] As of July 2014, there are 177 games that have planned or confirmed the release of support for the Rift.[4] Developers have also experimented and implemented different devices to enhance the virtual reality experiences. The Virtuix Omni, developed by Virtuix is an omnidirectional treadmill that uses a slippery platform along with shoes that produces low friction to mimic the motion of walking and running.[5] They have been incorporating that along with the Oculus Rift to provide an even more immersive experience where users could feel like they are walking within the gaming environment. On the right is a video that shows the use of Oculus Rift and Virtuix Omni in Battlefield 4, a first person shooter.

Healthcare

Virtual Reality used to treat PTSD

Virtual reality has made its way into Healthcare as well. The use of virtual reality has allowed clinicians to create a safe and controlled environment where patients can undergo therapy.[6] Research has shown that Virtual Reality has made it easier to evoke patients’ emotions.[6] One kind of medical condition that has used VR for treatment is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In 2005, Rizzo developed a software designed to treat war veterans that were suffering from PTSD.[7] Mimicking the environment from time of day, weather conditions, to sounds, clinicians can control and select the exposures to stimulate a variety of experiences in order to better control the progression of therapies.[6] Studies have shown that VRT is more effective in reducing PTSD symptoms when compared to the traditional approaches.[6]


Beyond PTSD, experts have been using and evaluating the use of VRT programs for other treatments, including phobias, anxiety, autism, eating disorder, obesity, addictions and other mental health problems. Facing your fears may be the best method to overcome a phobia, but some psychiatrists have deemed exposure therapy to be unethical with the stress and anxiety that it produces.[8] With virtual reality, clinicians can control the environment and the stimulants as well. Other medical therapies using virtual reality have also received good reception and have generally proven to be an effective alternative treatment.

Training

There are many benefits involved when using virtual reality training. It is convenient since it will not interrupt work flow. Compared to traditional training, virtual reality training has a lower cost. Trainees can practice in a safe and controlled environment. Many of these simulations are tailor-made and can be rerun as many times as needed. Moreover, they can be tested in different scenarios before the procedures are performed in practice.

Medical Training

Medical Training includes clinical skill training to prepare doctors and surgeons for real situations.[9] Users can strengthen their skills by simulating high risk situations in the virtual world. This allows them to practice technical skills, procedures, and theoretical scenarios. As a result, they should not be surprised and panic when encountering similar situations in the physical world.

Military Training

Military training using virtual reality

Virtual reality is often used in military training. Soldiers are trained for combat and responding to dangerous situations. Since military organizations tend to have tight budgets, they use virtual environment training because it is less costly than traditional training. Simulations in the virtual world can be rerun and controlled much more easily than in the physical world.

For example, soldiers can be trained to fight under specific weather conditions like snowstorms or heavy rain anytime in the virtual world. The US army was the first to use a fully immersive virtual simulation training system for their soldiers at Fort Bragg.[1] The system has five workstations: The Soldier Simulated Training area, Exercise Control Workstation, Virtual Soldier Multi-function Workstations, Semi-Automated Forces Workstations, and After Action Review area. These workstations focus on different areas, ranging from executing training exercises to observing planned scenarios in the virtual world.[1]

Other Types of Training

Other fields that utilize virtual reality training include aviation, mining, construction, space exploration, sports, and firefighting.


Second livestock

Virtual Tours

Canon's augmented reality dinosaur exhibit

Virtual reality is also used for virtual tours to let users to look around in exhibits without physically being there. In 2009, Canon launched an augmented reality dinosaur exhibit in Japan. Visitors had a pair of virtual reality glasses that showed 3D images of over 260 types of dinosaurs on the museum floor.[1] Virtual reality also has a comedic side to it; it can be used on live animals. Second livestock gives caged hens the physical and psychological benefit of living free range. These hens will be given virtual reality goggles, microphones, and movement sensors in order to give them the experience of roaming around and socializing with their other feathered friends.[2]










Business Analysis

Current Development Status

Gartner Hype Cycle and Technology Adoption Curve

Although virtual reality technology has been around for almost half century, it has not yet entered the mass/consumer market very successfully. The Gartner Hype Cycle and Technology Adoption Curve are used in this analysis to evaluate the current development status of virtual reality. Gartner Hype Cycle basically explains how the market expectation reacts to the different development phase of a new/disruptive technology. It divides the development phase into five stages. The first stage is the technology trigger when the pioneers gave the birth of the new technology. Then through some major marketing event, it draws the public attention and reaches the peak of inflated expectation. After which some technological problems are revealed and implementations fail to deliver. Therefore, the market expectation drops rapidly. However, when more venture capital is invested in the new technology, the problems are solved. As second and third generation products are made, the expectation goes up again. When it reaches a level that gives the developers enough confidence, the prototype will be mass produced for distribution. The Technology Adoption Curve is also divided into five stages. The first group, the innovators, represent 2.5% of the overall population. They are generally eager to try new ideas and are willing to take risks associated with new technology. They are the youngest age group of all adopters and the highest social class. They are also ‘cosmopolites’, which mean that their social groups are very widely dispersed. Innovators are the gate-keepers of promoting new ideas. The next group is the early adopters, which represents 13.5% of the population. Early Adopters have a closer social structure than Innovators; in other words, they are ‘Localites’. Although Innovators are the gate-keepers and catalysts for new ideas, it is the Early Adopters who have the highest ability to act as opinion formers across all other adoption types. The third group is the early majority, which accounts for 34% of consumers and an above average social class; the Early Majority adopts new ideas just before the average person. They interact frequently with their peers (locally and globally) as the important link in the diffusion process and deliberates for some time before completely adopting a new idea, often seeking third-party advice. The Late Majority group comes next. They also represent 34% of the population, and often approach new technology with doubt and skepticism. In some cases, adoption is forced on them from network pressure. Their social networks are usually local and and their social class is below average. The last group is the laggards. These consumers are traditionalists accounting for 16% of the population. Their social class is the lowest of all groups, as is their financial power. Unsurprisingly, this group is the oldest of the five and has the smallest social network size.[3] According to Kzero, a consulting company that specializes in virtual reality, the current development status of virtual reality is at the peak of inflated expectation in terms of the Gartner Hype Cycle. Although it seems to make sense as the Facebook just acquired Oculus for $2billion, we believe it is actually at the beginning of the Slope of Enlightenment stage based on the following facts: 1) virtual reality has been out for almost 60 years 2)technological problems were revealed and mostly solved 3)the second and third generation of the prototypes are being built right now. We agree with Kzero’s opinion that virtual reality is now trying to attract the early adopters as some enthusiastic gamers have shown interest in the technology already.

Geoffrey Moore's Chasm

According to Geoffrey Moore, who is an American organizational theorist, consultant and author, each disruptive technology has to cross ‘The Chasm’ if they want to achieve to the next stage of the adoption rate from the Innovator stage. ‘The Chasm’ refers to a critical stage in the adoption phase of new technology that has to be addressed into order for further adoption to occur. It’s also a stage that needs to be overcome in order to limit or ideally avoid the Trough of Disillusionment.[4] Referring back to virtual reality market, the developers need to address the following six factors in order to cross ‘The Chasm’. First five factors should sound very familiar to us and they are target market, product positioning, marketing strategy, distribution channels, and pricing. Virtual reality seems to be doing very well in terms of these five factors. First, each company or developer has their clear and unique target market. For example, Sony, Oculus Rift, Virtuix omni, etc. are targeting mainly the gaming sector. Eon reality is a specialist for the virtual reality in the education sector. Invensys Software is specialized in developing virtual reality for the training purpose. In terms of the product positioning, most recent products are all targeting either gaming sector or social media sector and some other products for education or training has been out for a while. Marketing strategy and distribution channel won’t be a challenge for those big companies like Sony, Samsung, Google. They have sizable marketing budget to promote the new concept and product and have their own concept store or e-commerce platform to connect their product with consumers. However, as there are certain number of new small companies joining the virtual reality competition, the marketing budget and distribution channel might be a big problem for those companies. We believe some companies will be shaken out as the profit margin will go down while the big companies has the advantage of economic scale. The Head-Mounted-Device (HMD) is now priced between $300 and $500. But it will be decreasing in the future for sure and might reach the $0 if the cost can be covered by the service fee or the game revenue.

The Holistic Product Concept

Oculus Rift Content Discovery Platform

The development of virtual reality does not only depends on the HMD’s development status or some special products, it relies on the entire VR ecosystem in which there are input systems, content, content discovery, and the platform, etc.[3] Currently companies are more focusing on the HMD and input systems like controllers and audio systems, etc. Companies are trying to develop more comprehensive and stable input systems. AntVR, which is a new Chinese tech company, has just developed an all-in-one controller kit that supports multiple platform including PC, PS, XBOX, Android devices. In addition, the controller is transformable, it can be a gun controller, a rocker, or a normal controller. Although indeed those are the products which can catch our eyes, they are all useless without content. Manufacturers have to place content front and centre (and are doing s0), ensuring hardware launches are accompanied by games and experiences. Some of these will be created in-house and some by third-party developers. In this case, open-sourced and open garden approaches will ultimately yield the best outcome to the consumer in the medium to long term (Kzero, 2014). Another important member of the ecosystem is the content discovery. Smartphone is now quite well developed as well as its contend discovery. For apple, users have the iTunes and the Android users have the Google Play to download apps or other content. It works the same way for virtual reality as well. For now, there are ‘Oculus Share’, ‘WeArVR’, ‘Enter the Rift’, etc. The ‘Oculus Share’ is the content discovery platform for Oculus Rift exclusively. 'Enter the Rift' supports some major gaming devices like Oculus Rift and Sony's Project Morpheus. But ‘WeArVR’ is an open content discovery platform that works with individual and studios to provide VR content for different devices. Those content discovery platforms are still not very well organized or developed yet and improvements are still needed. The last member is the platform. Most of the VR software or games are now running on the PCs or consoles. It deserves its own platform someday where all the VR software and games can be installed on it and once the HMD are put on, users see the VR desktop and choose which apps to open. In general, it seems virtual reality companies have been doing well in some major business factors. But more needs to be done in terms of the content discovery and the new VR platform.

AntVR's All-in-one Kit WeArVR Content Discovery Platform Enter the Rift Content Discovery Platfrom

Concerns

Although the virtual reality has been out for a while, there are still several problems and concerns the developers need to face and solve. The most two significant concerns are the privacy and desensitization. As the technology improves and progress, these two issues will become more significant and serious. The privacy issue is already a big concern only with the internet available. While the virtual reality enters the consumers’ daily life, the big companies will be able to not only track our cyber footprint, but also the behaviour pattern such as the length of time that we stare at a product in the virtual world. Then the data will be sold to the various companies to push targeted advertisement to the consumers.[5] Another major concern is the desensitization. Desensitization is defined as the diminished emotional responsiveness to a negative or aversive stimulus after repeated exposure to it. It also occurs when an emotional response is repeatedly evoked in situations in which the action tendency that is associated with the emotion proves irrelevant or unnecessary. In the case of playing games involving violence or other dangerous act. It may result in the user’s desensitization to the violence or other similar dangerous behaviour. As the virtual reality becomes more real and widespread, the concerns about privacy and desensitization will only getting more and more serious.[6] However, there are some other problems that may be concerns now but will definitely be solved later. One of them is time constraints. It takes the programmers so long to build up an indistinguishable virtual reality environment. For example, a 100% indistinguishable 3D walkthrough of a building would take the programmers up to a year or even more.[7]. That’s the reason why most of the virtual reality games are now quite blocky and reckless. But as technology improves, this won’t be a big problem in the future. In addition, even with the Oculus Rift headset, some users still claims that they feel cybersickness such as disorientation and nausea if they wear the headset for more than half an hour.[8] The HMD developers still have a lot of room for improvement. Also, although there are many companies working on the development of the headset or content, not many devices are compatible for all platforms or all games. There may be more possibilities of the content or devices development if standardized hardware and developing software are developed.[9]

Consumer Market Size Forecast

Although the consumer market for virtual reality is not yet explicitly hot this year, it indeed draws great public attentions. And based on the above analysis, we have reasons to believe in Kzero's forecast about the consumer market size as showed.[3]

Future Possibilities

Gaming

Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series in 2014 (left) and 1996 (right). Imagine what computer generated graphics will be like in another 18 years.

The original vision for Oculus Rift was to provide users with a method to virtually enter a game, similar to how Neo was able to jack into the Matrix as “the One”. In a recent IAMA with an Oculus Rift developer, it was revealed that the company may release their first retail version of the Rift by the end of the year.[10] Although their user demonstrations seemed promising for the future of virtual reality, it does not seem like this gaming platform will take off anytime soon. Developments for VR-compatible games are still in its early stages and are constantly subject to changes in virtual reality technology. At the moment, the Oculus Rift is the clear leader of such developments, but big name companies like Google, Sony, and Samsung all have their own plans for the emerging interest in virtual reality.[11] Having to create an immersive virtual environment for such an unstable platform inevitably results in cost overruns, delays, and project cancellations. On July 21 in 1995, Sony released its Virtual Boy, the first portable video game console capable of displaying “true 3D graphics”,[12] an ambitious project at the time. As a result of its technical limitations, the device caused significant eye damage and was met with negativity shortly after its release. The world was not ready for 3D, and the Virtual Boy was discontinued in March of the following year. In short, it was a complete disaster. In its current state, virtual reality is still hindered by an array of problems, one of which includes motion sickness. Current models of the Rift do not provide users with complete control of their field of vision, which may be frustrating and disorienting for them. For comparison, it is like playing a computer game with an unresponsive mouse. In games that require speed and precision, any delay in response time is quite an unpleasant experience. Other technical problems include limitations of processing power, image resolution, communication bandwidth, and latency.[12]


Nintendo's Virtual Boy

For the reasons mentioned above, it is unlikely that virtual reality will serve as a platform for casual or competitive gaming for some time. Fortunately, today’s rapid rate of technological improvements mean that technical limitations for virtual reality should not be a problem for higher-end machines by the next decade. However, with the emergence of smartphones and their arsenal of viral games, there is a much less urgent need for people to upgrade their personal computers. Systems like the Rift will need PC and/or console support in order to break into the mainstream market. As an individual platform, its prices will not justify the technology that it can offer to the casual gamer. With this in mind, until low-end computers can run the next decade’s high-end graphics, virtual reality gaming will likely remain a niche industry. As of 2014, North American telecom companies, specifically those operating in Canada, are still plaguing their users with third-world internet speeds;[13] this means that latency will continue to be a problem until Google successfully covers all of North America with fibre optics. Fortunately, unless these telecom companies choose to revamp their business models and miraculously outmuscle the titan that is Google, their long years of dominance and oppression are likely drawing to an end.


It is unlikely that virtual reality will immediately emerge as a whole new genre of gaming. Rather, it is far more likely to enhance current gaming genres like simulators and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Popular examples of such games include Flight Simulator, War Thunder, World of Warcraft, and Final Fantasy XIV. Exploration-based games like Journey and Tomb Raider are also relevant examples. Continuing on its once largely successful franchise, EverQuest announced that the next generation of the game will support the Oculus Rift.[14] Other companies are rumoured to have similar plans, but are keeping their projects a secret for the time being. Simulators, MMOs, and exploration-based games are all prime candidates for virtual reality because of one common theme: they all focus on immersing the player in a virtual environment. Comparing the older versions of EverQuest with World of Warcraft at its initial release, and then with Final Fantasy XIV and other new generation MMOs, it is clear that computer generated graphics are becoming quite lifelike. For a more direct comparison, see the Tomb Raider example. In the future, it may be possible to trick the mind into believing it is part of an alternate reality. For example, instead of using a keyboard or a mouse to point and click on a monitor, or even a clunky virtual reality headset, future iterations of VR gear may be lightweight enough to feel invisible to the user. The user can then be one with the warrior wielding two gigantic lightning-infused axes, or with the World War II ace outmanoeuvring five enemy fighters at the same time, or even with a virtual representation of himself spending time with his girlfriend who lives halfway across the world.

Traveling & Exploration

Star Citizen demo at E3 2014

Similar to the benefits of online dating, traveling and exploring a virtual environment may be a viable alternative in the future for those with limited time, social stigma, or some kind of psychological fear that they are unable to overcome, like motion sickness for some people. To go traveling in the physical world, there are all sorts of barriers and hardships to overcome before reaching a destination. Getting a visa approved, going through the lovely airport security, figuring out a new transit system, making sure the pets are home are fed and taken care of, getting time off work, and most important of all, having enough money to afford a trip in the first place, are just a few examples. With the prevalence of budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet, traveling is definitely becoming more affordable in some parts of the world. However, when virtual reality is ready to hit the mainstream market in the future, it can emulate traveling in much less time at a fraction of the price. While it may be difficult to replicate taste and smell, a convincing immersive environment can definitely create realistic sights, sounds, and even touchable objects.


The biggest advantage of this concept, or perhaps disadvantage, depending on perspective, is the fact that traveling in a virtual environment can be done in the comfort of one’s own home. It certainly offers a different kind of experience, but that is the essence of virtual reality: to be able to emulate reality, or alternatively, create a fantasy. Depending on how seriously the world governments take space exploration in the next two decades, it may be many more decades, or centuries, before space travel becomes an everyday part of life. Regardless, it is unlikely to happen in this lifetime. Virtual reality, on the other hand, is a different story. Immersive space travel can certainly be an appealing way to pass time. In fact, a Kickstarter funded game called Star Citizen, currently in development, aims to offer this kind of experience. Although it is the most likely environment to do so, traveling in virtual space does not have to be limited to the domains of a game. In the future, depending on how the stars align and how the world spins, it may become a viable business opportunity: virtual space travel! It would be great feeling to pilot an ARC-170 starfighter, just like the ones used in Star Wars, even if it is just virtual reality.

Business Applications

Ironman HUD from the movie, Ironman 3

When it comes to business applications, augmented reality will likely find commercial success long before immersive virtual reality hits the mainstream market. With cable companies and other similar sunset industries running on their last legs, advertising will need to find new creative spaces to make an impact on the public. As of today, metropolitan areas in almost every country are littered with advertisements; they’re in the subway, the malls, the streets, and even the skyline. In the more technologically advanced countries, some advertisements are broadcast on monitors strategically placed in areas with high traffic, like the subways. However, the majority of advertisements are displayed physically in 2D, ranging from hype posters for the next upcoming movie, to gigantic billboards of the land’s most popular idol. With the cost of technology ever decreasing, it may be possible to see augmented technology applied to smaller scale projects, like the hype posters. Augmented reality in one of these posters could be a great marketing opportunity for an upcoming superhero movie. Below is a video of the concept by Pepsi.


Speculating further into the future of both augmented and virtual reality, future iterations of Google Glass may be a possible candidate to champion the technology. As of 2014, Google Glass has yet to make a splash in the mainstream market. However, as the public are more aware of its potential benefits, there may be a significant increase of interest for it in the near future, likely within the next 3 years. If Google Glass were to succeed, it can pave the way for more futuristic designs like the Ironman HUD. One of the biggest issues with Google Glass is that it functions as a wearable eye piece. While this may not apply for everyone, some people find it inconvenient and unappealing. A holographic design like the one shown above can solve this pain point, although it is admittedly optimistic at this time. Regardless, it will be fascinating to see if a similar concept can become reality in the future.


In its bid to host the 2022 World Cup, Japan proposed to use holographic technology that would allow fans from other parts of the world to watch a holographic version of an actual match at their local stadium in real-time.[1] In addition, this feature allows fans to control which perspective they want to view the game from. If desired, it would be possible to watch the match from the first-person perspective of one of the players. To see the demonstration, check out the second video below.

Augmented reality experiment by Pepsi
Holographic technology promised in Japan's 2022 World Cup bid

Unfortunately, Japan was unable to secure enough votes to win the bid due to numerous accounts of bribery and corruption in the FIFA organization.[1] Currently, the 2022 World Cup is scheduled to be held in Qatar, but that may be subject to change once an ongoing investigation in the bidding process has ended.[2] Regardless of whether or not Japan gets to host the 2022 World Cup, the fact that holographic technology is becoming viable means that sporting events are about to undergo a dramatic series of changes for the better, similar to how high definition broadcast has improved the viewing experience for spectators worldwide.

Education

Virtual classroom in Second Life

Education is another area that can potentially benefit from virtual reality. The concept is similar to what Second Life tried to achieve by offering courses within their game,[3] but with a twist that can hopefully generate more interest for the new generation of high school and post-secondary students. One of the main reasons the Second Life courses did not succeed is because they are too similar to what is being offered in the physical world. Being in a virtual environment offers many advantages that would be hard to achieve otherwise. For instance, if someone were to take a forestry class virtually, instead of sitting in a classroom listening to lectures about wood for three hours, that time can be better spent in a virtual forest with an abundance of wood ready for examination. This can benefit visual learners greatly, as it gives them an opportunity to interact with their learning material. In addition, unlike field trips in the physical world, these trips to the virtual forest can be repeated over and over until the student is satisfied.


In some cases, entering a virtual environment can be more beneficial than visiting its physical counterpart. For instance, when sightseeing at a zoo or aquarium, it is difficult to interact with the animals through a thick layer of glass. Keeping certain animals in confined spaces for too long is also detrimental to their physical and mental health. In addition, many of the species kept in these encompassments are endangered, which makes them difficult to obtain. Because rarer species tend to attract more visitors, some zoos and aquariums in various parts of the world are willing to indulge in illegal trade in order to add them to their collections.[4] Creating virtual environments can bypass the need for zoos and aquariums; people can interact with virtual animals directly and can actively play a role to curb illegal animal trading and breeding. It would be better to see animals in a virtual environment than to take them out of their natural habitat just for people to look at them caged through glass windows.


While the technology may not be feasible in 2014, there are certainly plenty of opportunities to implement a virtual learning environment. Universities are already offering online courses for various subjects; virtual reality can take that one step further and make the learning experience more interactive. For the courses that are not offered online, many students, like Co-op students, will appreciate an alternative selection to accommodate their busy work schedules. Unfortunately, there are many barriers in play that make this difficult to achieve at the moment. For whatever reason, administrations of educational institutes are most resistant or reluctant to embrace change and technology. If learning in a virtual environment is to become reality in the future, then being a student in that era will truly be a fascinating experience. Hopefully, educational institutes will capitalize on technological opportunities going forward, and provide the necessary support to help them thrive, lest they go the way of SFU’s Yammer.

Real Estate

With the emergence of immersive virtual reality, real estate may be a prime candidate to adopt the technology. With VR, potential property buyers can have virtual property viewings at their own convenience. This allows them to be able to get a better idea of what the different property listings are like before actually going in for a physical tour. This will help them see a lot more listings in a shorter amount of time. The technology can also use alternative décor and style to show potential buyers what it could look like instead of having to imagine it in their head.[5] Panoptic Group, a Chicago based developer has used the Oculus Rift to help pre-sell their development projects.[6] They have said that it has helped them sell their property faster and that it is very cost effective. A Spanish company is currently attempting to use VR to sell property as well.[6] Below is a video showing their concept of bringing VR to real estate. With the benefits of helping property listings get more views from potential customers and its low cost, it may be popularized in the industry in the near future.

Newscasts & Virtual Meetings

Live SightDeck

Virtual reality also opens up more avenues to obtain information. BBC has been experimenting with virtual reality in their broadcasting. By incorporating the technology into news broadcasting, they hope to bring their audiences closer and more immersed into the story.[1] One of their experiments was to take 360 degree pictures around the studios that could be paired up with the Oculus Rift to see if users could feel that they are actually there in person and part of the programme. Results and development from these experiments can one day change the way in how we retrieve our news.


How we interact with one another across the world can be enhanced by virtual reality as well. With the capability of bringing people from around the world into virtual world meetings and conferences, communication and interactions can become more effective. On the right is a demonstration of LiveSight showcasing a technology that allows people from different locations to meet in a common area.

Browser VR

Another way that VR can transform the way we obtain information is through web browsing. Google Chrome and Firefox have announced its support to bring virtual reality features to internet browsing.[2] This may transform how webpages are created fundamentally and change the entire web browsing experience. For example, Firebox conceptualizes navigating web spaces through rooms and doorways. The below link shows a demonstration of this concept.


Firebox Concept Video

















References

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