Showcase 6 - VR

Virtual Reality is making a massive impact right now. Since the Kickstarter success of the Oculus Rift, the development of VR has accelerated dramatically. As expected, there's quite a few VR headsets in development right now. Here's a quick look at a few.

Microsoft Hololens

The Hololens is Mircrosoft's recent contribution to the VR offering. It's a bit different from other VR headsets as it's half VR and half augmented reality. The Hololens bascially tries to emulate an interactive hologram (see Iron Man), but requires you to put on a headset, so it's not quite it in the true sense. It is powerful though, unlike Google Glass which augments a flat layer of information to your vision, this maps 3D objects into your environment. When you put on the Hololens, essentially you can interact and walk around 3D forms, that appears integrated to real surroundings. The interactions come from gesture and voice commands.  In their promo video they show examples of the types of applications this would be useful in and some are quite powerful.

One application is in industrial design, whereby you can have a realistic representation of your concepts in a 3D space, at the right scale. This allows you to rapidly prototype concepts without having to make expensive physical models, and allows you to adjust on the fly. This is very much like the Iron Man example.

Another is screen sharing for instructional purposes. Microsoft have touched on the usefulness of AR in the area of education and instruction, as seen in their Manufacturing Future Vision way back. The example in the video shows a woman fixing a sink, whilst someone in another location is guiding her through it with 3D diagrams. This is a bit clunky, since the man's experience is completely 2D. But what would be better is if she was assembling something like Ikea furniture, where all the instructions are built into the parts, explaining what goes where and how to put it together.

This concept isn't completely new and is similar to T(ether), an experimental interface from MIT Media Lab (2012), but this is the first time I've seen it in a neat working and marketable form. It looks very promising.

NASA is also using it on their exploration of Mars, which demonstrates how powerful and useful this technology is.

Oculus Rift

The one that really jump started the evolution of VR. They've recently started Oculus Story Studio, which is committed to exploring the potential of VR in cinema. There has been quite a lot of hype around storytelling in VR and it being the next big thing in cinema.

This introduction video talks about the possibilities and challenges involved. Most interesting was the idea that 'cuts' in film was a technique that was developed to allow the film to change scenes and locations. In VR the problem with cuts is that it either disorientates the user or gives the sensation that you're being teleported. It becomes disruptive when you're trying to immerse the user in an alternate reality. So how do you tell a large story that involves multiple locations or multiple time frames? Do you have to be a participant in the story? Seems like there are a lot of interesting challenges and would be a lot of fun working through them.

Oculus Story Studio are currently creating 5 films told in VR. Very excited to see where it goes.

Other notable VR headsets

Samsung Gear VR (powered by Oculus Rift)
Sony Project Morpheus
HTC Vive
Carl Zeiss VR One
Avegant Glyph
Razer OSVR
Google Cardboard