We all have heard about the hype on AR/VR technology lately. You know what’s funny? As with all things in technology it is actually not exactly brand new stuff. It’s been years in the making. The first serious, renowned, consumer targeted effort was made by Nintendo in, guess what, 1995, with its Virtual Boy product:
This was a table mounted setup, not exactly the best user friendly experience. Too early and too crummy experience. Died a few months later.
Side note: the company that developed the technology was a Massachusetts based company called Reflection Technology, Inc. This company was, ultimately, devastated by the poor commercial results of this product.
Nevertheless it was an experiment. A serious one. It was a bold move from innovator Nintendo. As with all experiments bad things often happen. But, as humans, we take bad things with a positive spin, lick our wounds, regroup, and get back at it.
Fast forward 20 years and we are at it. Google idealised the CardBoard experience, using smartphone capabilities which essentially made VR a very realistic possibility for the masses. Facebook and Samsung, amongst a slew of other companies, poured some millions into the game. Microsoft developed the revolutionary AR based HoloLens. Android running AR glasses are coming out by the handful every couple of months. Technology and production have finally caught up with the vision.
Let’s set the ground even between me and, possibly, you.
AR stands for Augmented Reality, this means that the actual real world is augmented with bits and pieces of contextual and, eventually, useful information. Bottom line: you never get detached from your surroundings. You are still in touch with the real world.
VR is Virtual Reality, this means that you’ll be immersed in a totally fabricated world. It might resemble a real world setting or it might not, it depends on the purpose of the application you are running. The immersion will certainly come in the form of imaging and three dimensional perception but should/will be accompanied by aural and haptic feelings as well.
In certain cases, as in airplane VR simulators you will even feel the butterflies flying around your internals as you take off.
Which brings me to a very decent visual explanation of these two concepts:
A VR plane simulator vs. an AR plane cockpit:
So, where to next?
Trends in AR/VR
In 2016 we saw a bunch of exciting stuff. Some was technology and some was usage of that technology. This is what I take from the year of 2016 as the promising stuff for 2017.
Facebook / Oculus VR
Facebook a long innovator, has invested heavily in VR technology. We had the Facebook F8 conference where these folks really pushed the boundary of VR forward. If science fiction was written in books in the past it now just happens before our eyes. This means that digital social networking is, actually, a field where I expect very promising and human interaction changing stuff to happen in the coming times.
With the release of targeted APIs it’s up to the creative developers’ minds to produce new experiences and to delve into the minutia of how we can interact with our community in different ways.
Microsoft, a long standing Goliath in the software and in the hardware scene (yes, hardware, don’t forget: Xbox, Surface, Kinect) has created the HoloLens. A mind boggling device capable of augmenting the real world around you with meaningful information and capable of enabling you to experience new ways of interaction with information.
This web technology allows quick and dirty (or long and thoughtful?) VR interaction by any user running any browser capable of rendering GL based graphics and a Google CardBoard or similar head-mount. Don’t believe me? check it out.
Google CardBoard is, by any measurement, the cheapest and fastest way of experiencing VR possibilities. It represent an intelligent, efficient and cheap way to run VR applications wherever you are. Similar devices exist some come with remote controls which allow for a more complex interaction with the application that is running.
I definitely recommend trying it out.
Complex Data Visualisation
Several experiments with complex data visualisation are taking advantage of VR technologies, such as Will the UK Brexit? We expect this form of journalism, that relies on complex data visualisation techniques, to become more often, even pervasive, in the matter of 3 years.