Virtual reality and augmented reality: the technologies of the future

Part of our Austin experience was visiting the virtual/augmented reality lab at Capital Factory. Folks there have decided that the best current VR hardware is the HTC Vive. They aren’t in love with the much-hyped Oculus, but have it available to demo.

We did a 3D drawing game, browsed around in Google Earth, and played a first-person space-themed shooting game with the Vive. With Oculus, I played Angry Birds.

The good news is that we didn’t get sick, even flying around in Google Earth. On the other hand, I would rather have just covered the walls with more TVs for a more immersive experience.

I asked the folks running the lab for their theory on why VR hasn’t caught on. They cited the cost, noting that a complete HTC Vive rig is about $600. Yet that’s nothing compared to what hardcore gamers spend.

Readers: What do you think? Is it fair to say that “VR/AR is the technology of the future, and always will be”?

15 thoughts on “Virtual reality and augmented reality: the technologies of the future

  1. I’m skeptical that virtual reality (VR) will be more than a niche solution beyond gaming or (possibly) training. Would most people want to spend a large amount of time with a headset that deprives you of your senses of the physical world?

    Augmented reality (AR), on the other hand, will be more commonly used, like as heads-up display on the windshields of cars and aircraft and possibly even eyeglasses or retinal projection, if the technology can be worn more discretely than the abomination called Google Glasses.

    • Google Glasses were unobtrusive compared to some eyeglass frames hipsters like to wear. Reportedly Apple is working on some, which will presumably exhibit better design flair than Google is known for (and like the keyboards, the stems will fall out if a single drop of your sweat sullies them).

  2. AR will break through once the sports media offers it as add-on presume value.

    Imagine watching your favorite sports, say American football, via AR. You can than virtually position yourself and move around anywhere on the field. Not only that, you can rewind the play for yourself and watch a play over and over from different angles. It makes prefect sense for sports because there are so many cameras in use.

    This isn’t that far off, it already exist today but with poor quality. Google for it.

  3. Owner of a Rift here –
    IMHO, VR is definitely the tech of today and may well be forgotten (or just taken for granted) tomorrow as it remains to be seen whether it will have a long-term consumer future. It’s not crazy expensive compared to high-end gaming PCs and graphics cards, no. But the difference is that those things make all games faster/prettier and today’s high-end is tomorrow’s mid-range, so developers have every reason to support the high end of that market even if it’s < 5%. In contrast, VR requires special development for its < 5% that doesn't add any value for the 95%. So I'm pessimistic about the consumer future.

    But it's here and it works! It works better than I hoped! It's probably never going to be able to deliver the haptics that would make it perfectly immersive (a robot suit that prevents you from moving through virtual objects)? And free-motion peripherals (e.g. omni-directional treadmills) are probably always going to be too bulky/expensive for consumer applications. But it's pretty amazing nonetheless! Of all the probably-going-to-fail niche gaming peripherals you could buy VR is by far the best case scenario.

  4. Noted graphics programmer (and Oculus Chief Scientist) Mike Abrash estimates it will take between 4K and 8K per eyeball to have truly immersive VR, and the hardware is about 5 years away from being there. AR has less demanding requirements, and will probably be out sooner.

    I have an Oculus Rift, but hardly use it myself. My biggest beef is the proprietary and closed nature of the technology today, with big firms like Facebook attempting to set up walled gardens like Apple did. That’s why even doing something extremely basic like taking the 360-degree panoramic images from my Ricoh Theta V and making them visible on a VR headset is well-nigh impossible without paying multiple gatekeepers for the privilege.

  5. OK let’s brainstorm a little. I think the price needs to come down, and we need a variety of products that aren’t “full blown general purpose” AR/VR with nVidia gaming rig quality graphics and top-quality sound. You don’t need that for a lot of things. Impossible? Look at what you can buy for $99 now:

    We need something like a better, cheaper version of what @Bill was getting at: Google Glass and similar devices get a second bite at the apple as audience participation tech.

    Look at a classroom or especially, a speech/convention setting. Why not an improved/cheaper version of Google Glass to enhance what people can see and help them interact with the materials? So that overflow crowds and people way in the back, those with crummy seats or vision problems, can see better? So people at home could truly participate in real time – for a fee or not?

    Being able to review/preview presentation materials without taking one’s eyes off the speaker and fumbling with a handheld device would be awesome.

    How about *voting and polling* more discreetly at presentations and seminars? Instead of pushing a button on a handheld device, wouldn’t it be cool if voting could be more personal and private, hidden even from the participants standing next to you? That could enhance the quality of results with questions that might be awkward or embarrassing:

    “How many of our audience members are currently experiencing symptoms of erectile dysfunction?” Ho, ho.

    Now go upscale a little: I would love to have a really good pay-per-view VR concert experience. I can’t get to Boston to experience a symphony in person as often as I’d like. I’d LOVE to have pay-per-view on a really good system. It would be nice if I could rent it, or it came bundled with my internet service.

    Obviously, this has big disruptive potential for the venues hosting such events. What if you have the orchestra playing and nobody shows up, everyone watches at home with VR? So that has to be thought through carefully, but it could really help with audiences if it was done right.

    Given the price of some current audience-participation tech., limited as it is, I can really see AR happening in that market.

    • Sorry that sentence at end was supposed to be cut/pasted higher up, under “awesome”. I edit these posts in Notepad often enough and I didn’t scroll all the way down.

  6. “Would most people want to spend a large amount of time with a headset that deprives you of your senses of the physical world?”
    Isn’t “Fortnite” responsible for a bunch of divorces (and countless middle school D grades) ? For a lot of people I think that’s a feature, not a bug

  7. VR might be brand new for the flyover states, but it went the way of bitcoin a long time ago in Calif*. AR had another revival this year, but similarly died. This might be another year of privacy gadgets, camera enabled phone cases to replace the camera on your phone, passwords to replace your passwords. Wish there was another fitness gadget cycle, based on the condition of single women.

    • Here in a fly over state for the past 10 years local Office Max has been staffed with VR headsets, not sure how popular it is.

  8. if history is any guide, it can only succeed if it plays porn better than existing technologies.

  9. I have a theory that most “technology” which originates in science fiction, and which people attempt to build, is not technology at all, and will never live up to the science fiction vision of the creators.

    Autonomous vehicles, nanotech (Drexler was a science fiction writer; one without plot or characterization), “AI,” personal robotics, VR -all overtly came from science fiction. All of them fail to exist in the actual world in the forms which would make them useful. Most of them are very hard, possibly impossible problems. I’d argue that controlled fusion is also a science fiction concept; a hard headed look at the idea … I mean, the sun is the argument, and it’s so big and diffuse, it has the average energy output of a dunghill.

    Technologies which actually did change the world mostly did not come from science fiction; they came from laboratories and academia. Did any science fiction writer ever imagine something like google? The places where google tries to resemble science fiction, it usually fails, but as an advertising company that uses some library science tricks, they’re really good and have in fact changed the world. Stuff like the internet as it actually exists also not real science fictiony. Going back in time, nobody really anticipated the changes which the internal combustion engine wrought, nor television, nor cell phones.

  10. I used an Oculus for about 30 minutes, and while I found the experience absolutely great (“this is how computers ought to be interacted with!”), I had really horrible eye pain for hours afterwards.

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