Innovation

The Rise of Virtual Reality

When you think of virtual and augmented reality, it tends to conjure up images of science fiction and futuristic gaming: something reserved for storytellers and technologists from the movies. But the world as we know it is changing and the present has caught up with the future. Technology has come along in leaps and bounds and AR and VR are slowly intertwining themselves with our daily lives.

October 4, 2017

Although similar on the surface, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) serve two very different purposes:

  • VR is an artificial, computer-generated simulation of a real life environment or situation. Closed visors or goggles immerse the user in an alternate reality, stimulating vision and hearing and transporting them to another world. Think swimming with sharks or exploring Hogwarts.
  • Augmented reality takes our current reality and adds something to it. It doesn’t transport us anywhere. It simply “augments” our current state of presence, adding layers to our existing reality. So instead of swimming with sharks, you can watch them jump out of a book.

Ultimately, VR is attempting to give customers an experience completely removed from their regular life, whereas AR is attempting to give their real life virtual aspects.

Commercial Applications

Google was one of the first companies to invest in virtual reality and it has played a big role in its growing popularity. With the release of Cardboard last year, Google made it possible for everyone to enjoy VR content on their Smartphones. And who could forget the viral sensation Pokemon Go. This was the first major example of augmented reality finding mass market acceptance and infiltrating our daily lives.

Virtual, augmented and mixed realities are changing the way people interact with each other. But aside from gaming, what other potential applications does this technology have?

Healthcare

Getting hands-on experience in the operating theatre is hard for medical students, but virtual reality is preparing to change all that. The Royal London Hospital, has conducted brain surgery on an aneurysm recorded in virtual reality. Working with FundamentalVR, the team used 360-degree cameras in the operating theatre and GoPros strapped to the heads of the surgeons to capture the remarkable procedure.

Another example is Amblyotech, who has teamed up with Ubisoft to create Dig Rush, an app designed to help children with amblyopia (lazy eye). Amblyotech is a startup that focuses on developing electronic media therapies to help treat amblyopia as well as other ocular diseases.

Real Estate

The use of VR as a property marketing tool already represents a $1bn global industry, and Goldman Sachs estimates that this is set to treble by 2020. This is a huge leap forward for an industry which had previously been limited to 360 degree interactive video tours, sometimes billed as virtual reality, but never a fully immersive, photo-realistic experience.

Whether its remote direct viewings or design consultations to get an idea of the atmosphere, colour palettes and lighting choices, virtual reality offers a realm of potential applications to the industry and its clients.

Fitness

The fitness industry has been trying for decades to make exercise less boring but it has yet to find a cure for the monotony of working out – until virtual reality stepped in. Munich-based company Icaros GmbH believes that the addictive pull of video games combined with the immersive power of VR is the secret to fitness success.

Icaros has developed a VR exercise machine that delivers a core workout by making it seem like users are flying and deep-ocean diving. Approximately 200 gyms and entertainment centers from London to Tokyo have already installed the machines, which cost about $10,000 after including shipping and other costs.

If that doesn’t get you off the sofa, nothing will!

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Swarovski: Virtual Shopping

VR and AR shopping have been discussed in the tech world for years as a new way to browse for and buy items. But until recently the cost of VR headsets and lack of interesting apps for consumers had kept these concepts at bay.

Enter Mastercard and Swarovski, who have teamed up to create a virtual-reality shopping app for home decor. Once launched, their app promises to offer users their own crystal browsing adventures, giving them the option to explore virtual homes filled with crystal objects designed by architect Zaha Hadid, designer Tomás Alonso and others. Users will be able to read descriptions, see pricing and, in some cases, even watch videos about their creations.

Could this be the turning point for VR and augmented-reality shopping in luxury markets?

Sport

FOX Sports debuted a new social VR experience last month. FOX Sports VR lets you watch top live sports events in virtual reality from your own VIP stadium suite or from on-the-field camera positions. Viewers also have access to pregame festivities, team warm-ups, halftime band performances and post-game celebrations live through multiple high-resolution cameras. Viewers can manually jump between views or select an automated cut that chooses the best camera angles for live game action.

Live Music

The sense of presence that can be achieved with VR is incomparable to any other medium. You’re more present and your surroundings are heightened: you feel like you’re in the midst of all the action. After all, it’s a powerful sensation to watch something in 360 degrees, far more so than watching it on a flat screen. So it stands to reason that virtual reality has the potential to guide the music industry down a very interesting path.

With cameras that can capture 360-degree images from a number of vantage points, VR live concerts, such as those offered by VRTIFY, have the potential to be an even more thrilling experience than being there in person. It’s still early days, though. The technology needs to come a long way before conquering the mainstream.

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So where do we go from here?

 2017 has been a year of big developments. Virtual, augmented and mixed realities have become more integrated into our lives, from how we enjoy entertainment to how we socialise online, and we’re already beginning to see its impact on our lives. Soon enough there will be a whole new virtual world of entertainment, information and communication at our fingertips as thousands of developers and designers explore the medium and its new creative potential.

Sadly though, virtual reality systems are expensive and time consuming to develop, not to mention the obvious constraints of creating something that’s safe and user friendly (motion sickness is still an issue), so it could be some time yet before its full potential is explored.

But once we get there, our way of life and the way we explore the world around us will change forever.

Which VR/AR companies do you think will make the biggest waves in 2018?