Current Realities of the Virtual and the Augmented
In 1977, Atari announced the 2600. It was a budding industry’s first attempt at placing electronically displayed games into the hands of consumers. Our species had begun to play with light.
Sometime around 1989 or 1990, my parents brought me to North Pier in Chicago and a “virtual reality” game caught my eye (not the Battletech pods, although here’s a good article from ’93 about those ). It was exciting! I remember the imagery, the idea of it put in front of me, when I would think of a virtual reality. I knew what it would look like in my head and how I would move. I had been playing Nintendo’s Gauntlet, Super Mario Brothers and Zeldas for at least a couple years at that point, my body was ready!
It was one of those moments where you expected one thing and got a horse of an entirely different color. The tech used wasn’t virtual at all, it was holographic at best by means of mirrors, and ended up feeling more like VHS “play then pause” games. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure that’s what it was. North Pier back then was awesome, so it wasn’t like it blew the trip (How cool were my parents for bringing me there? Love you guys!), it did, however, leave that kind of impression in me towards the genre itself. And it was that exact impression I went in with when I first heard about the Google Cardboard.
Google Cardboard is basically a folded piece of cardboard, two lenses, some Velcro, and a rubber band. Its intentions are to give your eyes two VERY large images from an Android phone, rendering and delivering a virtual realty experience. It was a pretty high mark, but it very much delivers on what it promises. And it wasn’t just my reaction either, that by far wasn’t the best. The best was showing my mother and father “the universe.” In what period of time has anyone lived where something like that was possible? And the technology has not even matured yet! Google’s hat was thrown in the ring 3 months after Facebook bought Oculus (latest consumer rumor $499) for 2 billion.
That was July 21st, 2014, fast forward to present day, not even in the earliest days of June, and there are now at least 5 other hats in a couple different arenas. And the scary part is, each of them are of their own merit and potential. It will kick off this July, when Razors OpenVR initiative Hardware Dev kit goes on the consumer market at what will most likely be the very lowest of the prices throughout, at around $200.
Its designed to be modular, giving companies opportunities to physically create additions to the hardware, and make it completely scale-able in terms of upgrades, etc. To me (and to a lot of others), I see this as an industry introduction. OSVR currently has the backing of 188 companies towards its standardization procedures, the same way standards are adhered to in things like HDMI or USB 3.0. Even as big giants/competitors Valve who have their hefty hat in the game with the Vive have agreed for their standards to be completely compatible with the others’ standards.
This graphic is likely out of date by now, Sony’s Project Morpheus is scheduled around same time Oculus is during the early first quarter of 2016. Not a lot has been said about it, but as most see, it will likely be more of a Playstation accessory unless it adopts something like the OSVR model. Microsofts HoloLens (latest rumor $900) was, to me, the epitome of what snake oil personifies. That is, until I read Professor Brian Cox was approached with a question about it. The NDA prevented him from going any further, but he verified “that it’s all true.” The Hololens attempts to interact and create objects virtually and augment them into your reality via transparent visor. The demo they released was no less than amazing. The applications for a technology like this are staggering when compared to the behemoth Microsoft is, and where they are at in the Enterprise level, with integration to their catalog. Hololens is due out as Windows 10 is released, which is just about around the corner.
Another that is not in the graphic is a HMD called FOVE. FOVE has a very interesting niche in their way of handling the virtual and the augmented. It’s done in a way that is very natural to everyone really, they just don’t know how much they use it. FOVE uses special technology that calculates renderings and actions based on the position of your eye and their movement. Eye tracking has been getting a good amount of much needed and well deserved time in the spotlight lately. People are understanding the feeling behind shooting lasers from their eyes!
I know I’m going to have to wait a few months, but I’m willing to; my body is again ready! That sweet spot there is where I’m guessing the swell of hype will start, hopefully we can all sit back and watch the virtual tide wash in. It will really be interesting to see what the 12 month period from that sweet spot will bring for virtual reality and the augmented.