The Future of VR & AR at VR World, London

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Two of our most enthusiastic techies – Hamzah Ghafoor, Creative Technology Lead and Stephen Beaumont-Adam, Senior Project Manager – head to VR World at Kensington Olympia to find out what augmented, mixed and virtual reality has in store for us beyond gaming, and how we can use the technology to help our clients form meaningful brand interactions.

The gaming industry has been hugely influential in pushing the boundaries of what VR and AR can achieve: the lucrative budgets have allowed for exciting developments in the technology. But what really stood out for us at VR world was how this innovation has directly impacted other industries, like engineering and health.

AR in the OR

Gary Radburn, Director of Virtual & Augmented Reality for Dell, hosted a panel that included speakers from Airbus, Google and Huawei. Here, industry leaders, both those building the hardware and those using it, spoke of how the technology is being used to fix real world problems.

For example, in healthcare, AR headsets are being used to allow the world’s top surgeons help to perform surgery in remote areas or in emergencies. With the lead surgeon wearing an AR set, another surgeon can remotely observe the surgery, give step by step instructions or simply being on-hand to advise in difficult circumstances.

This means that people can be given world class healthcare without the need to fly the best surgeons around the world, while also enabling other medical professionals to learn from their expertise and experience.

Augmented reality-assisted surgery can even put scans into the field of view of a surgeon, providing a composite view of the patient with a computer generated overlay that enhances the operative experience.

There will be limitations in terms of infrastructure, but the mere fact that the world’s best minds are only a headset away is quite something. As AR headsets become smaller, lighter and more efficient this use of the technology could help revolutionise healthcare in emerging countries, war zones or even everyday emergencies in developed nations.

VR and AR in the Workplace

Another area where AR and VR are making ground is workforce training – especially in engineering. Unfortunately, certain professions have an ageing workforce who are taking their skills and expertise into retirement, but these technologies are offering ways to combat this.

One of my favourite anecdotes from the day was how AR is being used in the airline industry. Whether building a new aeroplane, maintaining their fleets or making repairs, AR headsets can provide the missing link. Where some of the more experienced engineers might not be on hand, or might be less suited to climbing into tight or awkward spaces, they can now support the more junior engineers, virtually.

Not only do you have an expert talking you through your job, one airline representative spoke of how an engineer can superimpose the entire wiring of an aircraft onto their AR headset, so the remote engineer can see the full schematics of what they are working on.

The idea of walking into an arena of work, having all the information you need when you need it, and having an industry expert overseeing your work and on hand to talk you through difficult jobs is a little mind-blowing.

It’s Just the Tip of the Iceberg…

For the everyday consumer, AR and VR are still very much luxury items. Yes, there are mobile phones and apps that can offer a glimpse of it; but for a fully immersive experience you need at the very least the latest gaming console (PS Pro or Xbox One X) and the respective headset, or a high spec computer and headset.

Without a doubt, AR and VR technologies have made significant inroads over the last 10 years.

Working in VR is like working in dog years. In one year the technology advances about seven.

But there is still a way to go before these technologies can become as ubiquitous as the smartphone. Aside from the absurd amount of processing power needed – Intel’s representatives  were casually promoting Teraflop processors as if they were memory sticks – there is also the way the media is being delivered. It is still in front of you on a screen.

So What’s Next?

Through the era of silent movies all the way to today’s Netflix binges on smartphones, the screen has been the perfect medium for passive consumption of content. Arguably the biggest change has been that screens have become smaller and progressively closer to your face. In the case of VR and AR, you’re now wearing it. However, if the headset is not perfectly centred to your eyes, or you happen to try and look around without tilting your head, the experience is lost. To truly be immersive, the technology needs to take into account challenges such as eye-tracking, tactile feedback and motion sensitivity. The screen has to be abandoned, and in its place a more revolutionary piece of hardware needs to be developed.

Luckily, smart people are already exploring what these new approaches could be. Samsung is currently pushing forward with developing its patented Augmented Reality contact lenses, although it is Omega Opthalmics that has developed an even more disruptive and invasive approach. They are using surgically implanted lenses – initially developed for treating cataracts – to create a space for AR inside the the eye itself. This will be an intriguing platform for AR developers to explore and build upon.

The two aforementioned solutions are on the radical end of solving the AR and VR conundrum. Since abandoning the screen is unlikely for the next decade at least, we need to look at what is available today that if used smartly can become effective tools for brand interactivity.

The WebXR Device API is a JavaScript specification being developed by the Immersive Web Community group. Using this API web developers will be able to use their existing coding skills to build immersive 2D and 3D interactive applications. Facebook’s ever growing family of web tools now includes React 360 – a browser based JavaScript based framework for the creation of interactive 360 experiences. It  will allow developers to use the now familiar eco-system of React whilst leveraging the power of the WebXR Device API.

What will excite web developers is that though AR and VR are very different beasts to what we generally create online, the languages used to build them will be the same. A web developer well-versed in HTML, CSS and JavaScript already has all the tools they need to get started in building immersive experiences. It’s important to begin experimenting with the technology now in order to fully realise its commercial and creative potential in the future.

And what does the future hold?

Visiting the VR world expo was, in a way, a reminder of the old wild west days of the early internet. The rules of VR and AR are constantly being broken and rewritten with every passing day. We’re still at the base of the curve in terms of how powerful the technology could become. The smartphone has gone from wowing us with gimmicks like polyphonic ringtones to becoming an essential tool for modern day living in a little over 20 years. We can only imagine what the next 20 years hold for AR and VR technology.

 

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