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The New Realities: VR & AR

August 2, 2016

 

If you’re anything like me (possibly a product of the 80s) you’ve been waiting ever so patiently for the future to arrive. And while the complete George Jetson lifestyle has yet to fully materialize, we do see a number of emerging technologies suggesting the future could be close at hand. Even as self-driving cars are beta testing their way down freeways across California, personal jetpacks are sadly far, far away from satisfying my childhood dreams. But at least one set of technologies saw dramatic advancement in the last few years....

 

Virtual Reality (VR) and its half-brother, Augmented Reality (AR), were promised to us decades ago. Unfortunately, until very recently, every commercial iteration was an abject failure. But with the combination of advancements in processing, high-resolution displays, and camera miniaturization, a number of real-life VR and AR technologies have finally debuted. Hear me now: the future has, in fact, arrived. Buckle your seat belts.

 

VR & AR are similar but slightly different technologies. Virtual Reality is the process of using external hardware to completely supplant visual and auditory stimulus. Basically, you strap on headphones and a VR headset and enter a 360º environment completely computer generated. These virtual spaces have applications across nearly all vertical markets: business, medicine, entertainment — the sky’s the limit. Consider the possibilities of full-emersion video chat, and the ability to bring expert, medical clinicians to remote sites using VR “telepresence.” In addition to the scores of VR movies and video games in development, the platform of VR will find a home well outside of just entertainment. From applications with NASA to CSI-like crime scene recreations to virtual vacations, expect VR to shake-up any industry it bumps into. The 500- pound gorilla in this space is the Facebook-acquired Oculus with their VR headset called “Rift.” (oculus.com)

 

Augmented Reality is a bit different. Instead of masking the outside world and entering a fully- immersive environment, AR is defined by an overlay of computer-generated content on top of the real world. (For the Star Wars fans: think R2-D2 projecting Obi-Wan to Leia.) We’ve seen a few players in this space, but nothing has ever taken off. Until now. Pokémon Go, a game derived directly from AR tech, just became the most successful game in the history of smartphones. Instead of visiting this game world from the comfort of a couch, Pokémon Go requires players to head out into the real world to find treasures and interact with game characters.

 

But Pokémon Go uses a smartphone’s screen only — no immersive headset yet — so it’s obviously a stepping-stone in the progression of the technology. For the full expression of AR, look to Microsoft and their innovative (but still in development) HoloLens to lead the AR charge. Their marketing lingo positions HoloLens as “the first fully self-contained, holographic computer, enabling you to interact with high‐definition holograms in your world.” And as much as I’m typically bearish on Microsoft, their AR program is at least one indicator that Microsoft could still have a little innovation in their back pocket. Expect AR to power revolutions across the board. (microsoft.com/hololens)

 

So while jetpacks won’t be riding us into the near future, expect new VR and AR tech to deliver a breathtaking “virtual jetpack experience.” These new post-reality innovations are opening exciting new opportunities for entrepreneurs everywhere. The Jetsonian age may actually be upon us — just buckle your headset. 

 

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