The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas drew huge crowds again this year, with audiences seeing, touching and enjoying the hottest new gadgets and technology. From cars that drive you to drones that are smart to 4K high-definition TVs, it was all there. But the biggest story of all, may be the virtual reality (VR) revolution. VR tools and devices will transform 21st century IT infrastructure.
Credit: Flickr/Maurizio Pesce
Step right up and strap on your headset. You are about to experience something you’ve never seen before. Now, let’s add touch, and smell, and amazing 3D sound – and we’re off to enjoy distant lands, meet fascinating people and jump into new adventures.
Sound like an immersive video game or a new ride at a Disney World theme park? It could be, but….
Perhaps, it is a teaser to tempt you to travel on vacation overseas.
Or, a new way that you take classes and learn at your school or university.
Or, another cool, high-tech option for politicians holding town hall meetings.
Or, a way products are tested at work.
Or, the next generation of social media and video conferencing and global communication – all in one.
Just as the first generation of the Internet later brought us services like Facebook and YouTube and Amazon.com, VR will eventually influence and integrate into most areas of life.
There are plenty of articles on the recent history of VR, or longer articles for those who want to understand even more background about how we got to this VR point. But check out the images in this article from Business Insider to see how vast this VR topic has now become.
CES & Oculus Gear VR
But at CES 2015, virtual reality is front and center. Oculus has a two-story booth for the Crescent Bay headset prototype. Samsung is running a “virtual reality experience” showcasing its recently released Gear VR headset. Peripherals company Razer announced the Open Source Virtual Reality development platform and its own hacked-together headset. You can see a final iteration of Virtuix’s omnidirectional treadmill, now a few months away from release. There’s a bizarre self-described “Oculus killer” by billionaire Alki David and a fashionable alternative called Glyph that projects images on your eyes. Even stalwarts like Intel and HP have products. And filmmakers are making forays into virtual reality content. Fox Searchlight showed off a three-minute “experience” based on the Reese Witherspoon film Wild,” smaller company Arkamys showcased 360-degree video, and Samsung released Milk VR, a platform for virtual reality filmmaking.
Another great event summary is offered by France24.com, with the title: Virtual reality enters a new dimension. They begin with, “Welcome to "The Matrix"? Not quite, but new technologies are pushing ultra-convincing virtual realities out of the realm of science fiction and into the now.”
But I’m sure you want to see some of this action for yourself. If you do, check out this fun video:
VR beyond gaming
If you’re willing to invest a bit more time, I encourage you to watch this longer video from Engadget Expand which provides some great discussion from thought leaders on VR beyond the gaming industry. Examples are given about the acceleration in capabilities of input, self expression using avatar and even VR emotions. Other topics discussed include:
- VR training, form-factors, mass market appeal.
- Mapping out buildings, global travel, e-health, use cases in real life such as improving public speaking.
- Is a VR explosion a couple years away? Where is the software and content? How about cost and wider adoption? Even, the introduction of 3D sensors into tablets.
Several top universities have been working with VR for years. For example, this Stanford University lab offers some examples of very interesting VR projects.
What about VR in the workplace?
Back in June of 2014, Forbes ran this piece which describes how VR will change life both at home and at the office. Here’s an excerpt:
“Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face—just by putting on goggles in your home,” Facebook chairman and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook blog post announcing the acquisition of virtual reality company Oculus VR. “One day, we believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people….”
“VR allows people to truly feel like they inhabit the same virtual space together at the same time, as opposed to screen-based teleconferencing, and we think that’s something that Facebook will help utilize for the business world,” Hrafn Thorrison, co-founder of Aldin Dynamics, a virtual reality software company, explained.
Indeed, in just a few years, you may be able to negotiate in a virtual New York boardroom while pacing on the beach in Turks and Caicos.
Meanwhile, in November of 2014, The New York Times Magazine declared that VR fails its way to success.
Immersive, transporting, revolutionary. But most of all, non-nauseating. That’s the term that sets the Oculus Rift apart from the long line of demoralizing virtual-reality Edsels that preceded it. The chief asset of the Rift — more than its dazzling specs, more than Facebook’s sizable investment in it — is its dignified, non-emetic quality. All hail: the Oculus Rift doesn’t make you vomit.
And for this particular technology, that’s a crowning achievement….
Enhancing education, Hollywood and more
We all know that kids (and most adults) often learn better by doing. Hypergrid Business described five ways that VR will transform education back in September of 2014. You can read the details for yourself, but their 5 ways included:
1. Collaboration in virtual reality classroom fosters social integration of learners
2. Not possible in reality is possible in virtual reality
3. Virtual game-based experience increases students’ motivation
4. Virtual reality introduces new approach to rewards
5. Virtual platforms and headsets are the new tools for inspiring creative learning
And Hollywood is also is big believer in VR, with plenty of movie-related spin-off activities using VR.
"This feels like tablets," Dunn told The Hollywood Reporter of the emerging VR technology market. "In the fourth quarter  there will be a few systems out there, and the market could reach 10 million households very quickly. If it's compelling, I think 25 million households is conceivable by 2017."
But not to be outdone – the gaming industry is being transformed by VR. The revolution is beginning now. Wired Magazine in the United Kingdom asked Brendan Iribe, CEO, Oculus Rift, this question: “How will gaming change in the next ten years.” His answer:
"Virtual reality and 'presence' will continue to transform gaming and entertainment. VR is the ultimate platform; no other medium allows players to feel present in a virtual environment and believe others are truly sharing that space with them. It will enable human interactions in digital spaces like never before. We will finally be able to step into the games we love. I could not be more excited; this is the best time to be a gamer.”
Another Bloomberg.com story is another helpful piece on how VR is closer to home than ever before, as movie studios embrace VR technology.
Is VR too expensive?
Some doubters still see many issues to overcome – like cost. For that reason, there are new offerings like this AirVR headset that even uses the iPad mini to help lower entry costs to VR. (I must admit that this solution does not seem to have as much of the “cool” factor for me – as compared with other headsets, but it works.)
Meanwhile, you can buy Samsung’s VR headset now for $200.
What’s missing & when will the VR surge begin?
So why is VR not already huge? The missing piece seems to be enough compelling content. Still, like apps for smartphones, the content and apps are coming
The experts in VR say that everyone wants true "presence," the somewhat elusive key to unlocking a truly immersive experience. To get that, we need even more of our 5 senses integrated – especially touch.
One expert said, "You're interacting a little bit with the world using your head, but you want to reach out, not only touch but you want feel what you're touching. That's been one of the key barriers for VR."
And yet, the more I learn about VR, and experience different VR headsets at Internet of Things (IoT) events around the world, the more convinced I am that VR will be hot. Perhaps Oculus Gear VR will be like the Apple iPad, but an entire range of infrastructure devices and applications will emerge similar to tablets or smartphones or the cloud categories we use today.
Get ready for VR platforms to be a major part of our new technology infrastructure moving forward. I’ve been burned too many times by other hot trends to doubt how this trend will takeoff.
I don’t know exactly when, but VR will transform the Internet over the next few years. Many industry leaders think 2015 or perhaps 2016 could be the year. Our online (or virtual) and offline (or disconnected) worlds will become even more integrated than ever before - and both will be real.
What about security? Are there other risks? Can you hack someone’s VR experience? How will headsets and other peripherals integrate with existing products? Those questions, along with a whole bunch of other challenges, are for another day.
But just as VR stole the show at CES in 2015, it will soon transform gaming and movies. And the office won’t be far behind.