We’ve heard a lot of buzz in the news about Virtual Reality recently and companies including Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple are making large investments in the technology. Business is getting behind the growing movement away from the mouse and keyboard to computers that work more intuitively with your voice and hands. With all these new technologies coming to the market, it's hard to keep track of them all. Let's take a look at what’s out now and what we can look forward to.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual Reality allows the user to interact in a seemingly-real way with a computer simulated environment or 3-D image. It uses a HMD (Head-Mounted Display) to take over your entire field of view and replace it with a new reality. Coupled with tracking systems for your hands, head and body it can provide a realistic feeling of being physically transported somewhere else. Basically, it’s the early stage of Star Trek's Holodeck.
Some of the Current Hardware:
- HTC Vive - A full-room scale VR solution. Allowing up to a 15 x 15 foot space with both hand and head tracking. The Vive allows developers to create very natural feeling environments where users can utilize their hands while looking around as if they were physically there.
- Oculus Rift - At launch, Oculus is a seated experience gaming platform; but will soon offer a similar room scale experience as the Vive has.
- Phone Conversion VR (Google Cardboard, Gear VR) - Similar to Oculus, these offer a seated experience for VR and are currently the easiest way to experience VR without expensive hardware.
Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented reality is when an experience or environment is supplemented computer generated sensory input. AR is a still emerging step in the user experience evolution. Microsoft has been at the forefront of this with their Hololens, but AR has been implemented via phones and gaming devices for some time now. AR’s advantage over VR is that it can be implemented through a 2d screen or through HMDs with see through displays, so the user does not feel isolated from the real world.
Some of the Current Hardware:
- Nintendo 3DS
- Smartphones have been used to bring business cards to life, showcase 3d models and animations, and play games in augmented space.
- Microsoft Hololens aims to take this one step further by placing your augmented reality right over your vision with its own HMD system.
- Daqri is a “smart helmet” geared towards business. AR can be very effective in providing information for technicians and engineers in the field. Allowing them to keep their eye on the job while providing data congruent with reality.
Mixed Reality (MR)
Mixed reality is the merging of real and virtual worlds. A company named Magic Leap is making big waves in the tech world. With massive investments from Google and Alibaba, Magic Leap has become a big name without even releasing a product. While the company has been very quiet about the specifics to the public, tours of their technology have lead to their to big investments. The goal for Magic Leap is to provide a perfect blend of reality and your computer. By manipulating the light of the world as it makes it’s way to your eyes, they claim to be able to create images that appear no different from real objects in the world. Coupled with tracking and HMD (such as basic eyeglasses), they could easily become the only choice for VR and MR as the technologies evolve and advance.
So what does this mean for my business and my life?
Virtual reality gives an opportunity to engage people in much more emotionally compelling medium. Tour a space virtually before renting, review new products at scale with people around the world, see what a billboard will look like from the driver's perspective, etc. The potential for business is very clear, and at an optimal stage to take advantage of right now. While we’re still a few years from AR, VR and MR experiences being the standard way we use computers, it’s definitely on the rise. Before you know it, it’ll be as common as smartphones are now.