Thoughts on VR and AR, part 2: AR, MR and beyond

via proximie.com

This article is designed to be the second part of a short series offering personal thoughts on the broad state of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR, together with mixed reality, or MR) as they appear to stand at the end of 2018, and where they might be going over the course of the next few years.

In doing so, I’m not attempting to set myself up as any kind of “expert” or offer predictions per se; I’ve simply been gorging myself on a wide range of articles and reports on VR and AR/MR over the last few weeks to make sure I’m caught up on things. In part one, I covered VR; This part therefore examines AR/MR, with an emphasis on headset / eye wear, as it is these tools that particularly interest me.

Compared to VR, AR/MR has been much more a slow burner in terms of press interest. The reason for this is simple: outside of a few headliners like the original Google Glass, Microsoft’s HoloLens and, most recently, Magic Leap One, AR/MR eye wear hasn’t really caught the media’s attention. However, in assessing the state of the VR and AR/MR markets over the next 3 years, SuperData predicts something of a rapid rise in AR/MR adoption, which could see the technology generate revenues very slightly in excess of those predicated by SuperData for VR by the start of 2022.

AR / MR revenue trends, 2018-2021. Credit; SuperData

Even allowing for these figures including smartphone AR applications, this forecast might seem optimistic, but there are reasonable grounds to suggest they are not beyond the realm of possibility – if, perhaps a slightly holistic view is taken. I say this for a number of reasons: the increasing use of AR/MR in a range of workplace  / service environments; the release of development platforms for AR on smartphones and mobile devices; and availability / development of new headsets; although there are some caveats.

I’d like to examine these ideas in turn, starting with adaptation of AR/MR in enterprise-type environments. In doing so, I’m limiting myself to briefly covering just three examples: Google’s Glass Enterprise Edition, Microsoft’s HoloLens and a company called Osterhout Design Group (ODG).

  • Using the basic Google Glass concept (2013-2015) Glass Enterprise Edition re-lunched in mid-2017 with 50 US companies using it in engineering, training and services including GE Aviation, Boeing, Volkswagen, AECO, and DHL, and with a range of healthcare uses, including Augmedix and Brain Power (see Google Glass: The Comeback?, July 2017 for more).

  • Microsoft’s HoloLens has been similar adopted by a range of companies including Volvo Cars, Japan Airlines, BlueScope Buildings and Trimble (architecture and building design), Autodesk, together with widespread adoption in healthcare from training through to major aspects of surgery in hospitals around the world. Most recently, the US Army has given Microsoft US $480 million to develop the HoloLens for troop training and combat missions, while NASA utilises it both on the International Space Station (Project Sidekick) and as a mission / prototyping visualisation tool (projects OnSight and ProtoSpace).

  • Osterhout Design Group (ODG) – a company that potentially help Microsoft develop the HoloLens when they sold 81 patents related to AR and head-worn computers to the software giant for US $150 million in 2014. Have released a family of AR glasses, the R-7 and R-7HL (“hazardous locations”) specifically designed for use across business and industrial applications, providing heads-up information displays and overlays. In 2017, ODG launched the R-8 and R-9 glasses, utilising Qualcomm’s more powerful Snapdragon 835, with R-8 intended to start bridging the gap between “enterprise” and consumer use.
The ODG R-8 and R-9 headsets, launched at CES 2017. Credit: Engadget

There are other examples of AR headset use in business (and entertainment) to be sure, but I hope the above are enough to make the point. Highlighting the use of AR systems in the workplace is important (as it is with VR – see part 1 of this series) because familiarity with them in the workplace could help spur people’s  willingness to bring it into the home as affordable consumer systems start to appear, because: because a) they have experienced it within their workplace and have seen it benefit them; b) the hardware involved is (more-or-less) the “same” as the hardware they are buying (familiarly encourages both trust and experimentation).

Continue reading “Thoughts on VR and AR, part 2: AR, MR and beyond”

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Thoughts on VR and AR, part 1

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I haven’t written too much about “consumer” virtual reality and / or augmented reality during 2018, primarily because this past year has been rather quiescent when compared to 2017 and earlier, so outside of one or two events, there hasn’t been that much I’ve been prompted to write about. As such, and as we pass from 2018 to 2019, it seems a good time to take a broad look at both and where they might be going, at least from a purely armchair perspective.

In doing so, I’m not attempting to set myself up as any kind of “expert” or offer predictions per se; I’ve simply been gorging myself on a wide range of articles and reports on AR, VR and mixed reality over the last few weeks to catch up on everything, and with this article I’ll focus on virtual reality.

(Note that in writing this article, I’m deliberately ignoring two products that involve VR: Microsoft Mixed Reality and Apple’s rumoured AR / VR system. The former, because Microsoft appears to be playing a much longer game, and it is unclear how MMR will impact markets down the road; the latter because it’s unclear how Apple’s product will mix AR and VR, it’s overall capabilities, price point or precise nature.)

Consumer focused virtual reality has always had a hard mountain to climb. From the start, predictions of its growth verged on the ridiculous. At the end of 2015, for example, TrendForce claimed sales of VR hardware, software and services would hit US $70 billion by 2020, a figure that, at the time tended to be taken for granted despite the fact that when it was made, the consumer versions of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive hadn’t even started shipping. Nor were TrendForce alone in the hyping.

Consumer-focused VR was drastically over-hyped before the first consumer version of the Oculus Rift had even launched  – something which had perhaps come back to haunt it. via TrendForce

Obviously, VR hasn’t achieved anything like this kind of volume, but it is growing. In 2017, for example, total VR hardware and software sales reached US $2.8 billion, three years ahead of the time frame IHS Markit (one of the more reserved analytics companies looking at VR in late 2015) predicted. In 2018, this increased to US $3.3 billion; a relatively modest growth, but not unexpected given that outside of the Oculus Go, there haven’t been any major releases of VR headsets. This modest growth in sales, coupled with the lack of exciting new hardware releases has perhaps lead to more negativity around VR being voiced than previous years. However, 2019 could be the start of a “turnaround” for VR.

VR’s current and projected growth. Source: SuperData

As it is, SuperData, which specialises in analysing the computer and gaming sectors, predicts that the VR market will double total revenues to US $9.6  billion in 2019. They further suggest revenues could grow to US $19.0 billion by the end of 2021. These might again sound like inflated figures – particularly the idea of a five-fold revenue increase in just three years, but there are actually two or three reasons to suggest why 2019 could well see significant growth in revenue for VR, and which will see it continue to trend upwards at a rate somewhat faster than seen thus far.

Up until the arrival of the Oculus Go earlier in 2018, consumer VR hardware had been more-or-less split into three areas: high-end tethered systems requiring upmarket PCs to power them; units dependent on the use of smartphones for a more limited immersive experience, and what might be termed a purely games oriented solution in the Sony Playstation VR. As such, all have been somewhat limited in their appeal / reach.

Oculus Go: 2560×1440 @ 72Hz screen; 101-degrees field-of-view; 3 DoF tracking; Snapdragon 821; price and on-board storage: US $199 / 32 GB and US $249 / 64 GB

However, in 2018 the Oculus Go arrived, and in 2019 it is set to be joined by the Oculus Quest and the Vive Focus. The significance of these three units is that they are entirely self-contained and provide an immediate VR experience right out-of-the-box. No need to hook up a heavyweight PC (possibly at added expense) for the heavy-lifting, or to have a suitable smartphone to provide the visuals.

While both the Quest (shipping in 2019) and the Focus (currently only available in China) have yet to  become globally available, their potential impact might be seen in the positive response the Go generated at launch, as noted by SuperData:

Oculus Go is part of an important movement. Facebook sold more units of the standalone headset in its launch quarter than they did the Oculus Rift in the entire first half of 2017. Its price and convenience are proving to be selling points.

– Stephanie Llamas, SuperData Head of XR data research

What is particularly interesting about the response is that it has not been limited to purely “home” use. While the Go is marketed as an “entertainment” headset, it has already been seen as a means of expanding VR’s use within enterprise markets. Take Walmart as an  example.

Continue reading “Thoughts on VR and AR, part 1”

Oculus Quest: the new Oculus standalone headset system

The Oculus Quest (centre) with the Go and Rift flanking it. Credit: Facebook.

Update, Thursday September 27th, 2018: hands-on reviews, such as this one from Techcrunch, report the Quest is powered by a Snapdragon 835 chipset.

On Wednesday, September 26th, Facebook announced the Oculus Quest, billed as their “first all-in-one VR gaming system”. The new headset is due to start shipping in Spring 2019 with a price point of US $399 and 64 GB of on-board storage.

The Quest isn’t actually the first Oculus standalone headset unit – that honour went to the Oculus Go, launched in May 2018. It provides an experience similar to the Gear VR system offered by Samsung (and using Oculus optical hardware), and sells for US $199 with 32 GB, or US $249 with US $64 GB of storage. The unit was seen as easy to use, albeit with limitations.

Oculus Quest is intended to sit between the Rift and Go, and “first” used with it is in relation to the “VR gaming system”, as Facebook see this new headset being specifically about gaming. It offers capabilities far above those of Go, and even exceeding the Rift. These capabilities include:

  • 1600 x 1440 per eye resolution.
  • Two Oculus Touch style controllers.
  • 6DoF (6 degrees of freedom).
  • Built-in 360 degree audio.
  • Adjustable spacing for its lenses.
  • Four ultra wide-angle sensors for motion tracking / positioning, with “arena sized” tracking capabilities.
The Oculus Quest on display at Connect 5. Everything – battery, CPU, GPU, etc., is contained within the headset. No separate battery case processing unit. Credit: Windows Central

As a standalone unit, the headset uses a dedicated operating system, based on Android (as does the Go), so it will not natively run existing Rift VR titles, although it is anticipated that Rift-focused games will be ported to Quest alongside Quest’s own list of titles – there will be a portfolio of at least 50 titles available when the Quest starts shipping. Interestingly Facebook have indicated that they plan to have a Single button” process to allow Quest centric games to be converted for use on the Rift “with no code changes”.

The key differentiator between Quest and the Rift – other than the standalone nature of Quest – is, as mentioned above, that Quest is being touted as a games-centric headset, while the Rift is seen as more “video” oriented. However, and allowing for development of titles and applications, it’s hard to see such an artificial division between the two remaining in place over time.

In keeping with this, the 50-title line-up for when Oculus Quest starts shipping is games centric, and will include a three-part cinematic Star Wars “6DOF” experience, centred on Darth Vader. Called Vader Immortal, players using it will, to quote, “Be able to step inside the world of Star Wars in the comfort of your living room and, for the first time, truly feel free.” Also as a part of the games element, Facebook note that Quest headsets can be used in multi-player scenarios right out of the box.

An image said to be from Vader Immortal, the new Lucasfilm 3-part VR experience set to launch when the Oculus Quest starts shipping in 2019. Credit: Starwars.com

The sensor system on Quest, now officially called Oculus Insight, sounds particularly impressive. The four ultra-wide-angle sensors coupled with “advanced computer vision algorithms”, allow for full position tracking in real-time. the sensors look for edges, corners, walls and furniture to build up a 3D map of the wearer’s surroundings, while input from the headset’s gyroscope and accelerometer allows an estimate of the wearer’s head position to be calculated every millisecond. Quest also includes a capability called “multi-room guardian”, allowing multiple environments where the headset may be used to be mapped and saved, removing the need for constant recalibration when using Quest in different locations.

The new Quest controllers (seen below) are very similar in nature to the Touch controllers, offering joysticks, menu buttons, a pair of trigger buttons for each hand, and an AB/XY array. The major difference is a new halo that goes around the hand. It is thought this may link with another element of the Oculus Quest ecosystem: an RGB sensor, which may be used to translate controller location in virtual space, and which can double as a “camera” a Quest wearer can toggle in order to see a (greyscale?) view of their real-life surroundings.

The Oculus Quest controllers, similar in nature to the Oculus Touch. Credit: Facebook

No detailed specifications have been given in terms of CPU / GPU for Quest – although it is believed a  high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon is providing the necessary processing. In introducing the headset, Facebook refer to it as rounding out their “first generation” of VR systems:

With the introduction of Oculus Quest, we’ve completed our first generation of best-in-class VR headsets. Oculus Go remains the easiest and most affordable way to get into VR, while Oculus Rift leverages the power of your PC to push the limits of what’s possible. Thanks to Oculus Quest, we’re now able to combine the best of both worlds and welcome even more people into the VR community.

Oculus VR, Introducing the Oculus Quest, September 26th, 2018

With HTC recently having launched a US $300 wireless adaptor for the HTC Vive and Vive Pro – both of which require a high-end gaming rig, Oculus VR may just, with this announcement of the Quest priced at the same level as the Rift, stolen a march on their competition. That said, it’s likely still not enough to get me to invest in a VR headset just yet. I’ll see what the next generation of hardware brings. But for those who are interested in the Oculus Quest, hands-on reviews should be appearing on the web, “real soon now”, to coin a phrase.

Magic Leap previews its first AR/MR system

Magic Leap One. Credit: Magic Leap

Magic Leap has had its share of ups-and-downs over the past few years. Founded by tech wizard Romy Abovitz, the super-secret company has been at the centre of hype, speculation and doubt. Much of the hype has been spun by the company itself, much of the doubt has been driven by reports of friction in the company, issues with the technology, and so on.

Now, a year after scepticism around the company overtook the hype, Magic Leap has announced the availability of its first product: the Billed as the Magic Leap One Creator Edition augmented (or mixed) reality system, the unit comprises three parts:

  • Lightwear: a headset utilizing the company’s “Digital Lightfield” display technology with multiple integrated sensors to gather spatial information.
  • Lightpack: a  circular belt-worn hip pack that contains the computer powering the headset via a tether.
  • Control: a hand-held controller that can be tracked in space that helps users navigate menu selections, etc.

As an augmented / mixed reality system Magic Leap One is designed to blur the divide between the digital and the real, with the company promoting a series of potential use-cases for it, including:  web browsing and shopping, working on multiple virtual monitors, social telepresence, theme park “rides” and experiences, and gaming.

The system is somewhat removed from some of the hype built-up around Magic Leap’s initial designs – which tended to suggest something far more glasses-like.

There’s no doubt the headset is a lot bulkier than might have been imagined from past descriptions, and while nowhere near as bulky as a VR headset, it leaves a lot to be desired in the ergonomics department, particularly when compared to the likes of AR headsets like Google’s Glass Enterprise Edition or AR systems using  Qualcomm’s snapdragon processors. My own impression on seeing the Magic Leap One images is that the headset looks sci-fi bug-eyed  – almost sinister – and the size of the lenses has me wondering about effective field-of-view.

Lightwear, Lightpack and Control. Credits: Magic Leap

The Lightpack has also come in for critique, with some tech journos calling it “large” or “bulky”. been called “large” by some in the tech press, it’s actually about the same size as Walkman CD players people used to happily clip onto their belts and wear.

The Control has a trackpad and six degrees of freedom (6DOF) tracking, and some six option buttons.

Other than that – details are currently light right now. There are no technical specifications or pricing. However, and in fairness, Abovitz does refer to the announcement as “a small reveal“, rather than any kind of pre-release notification. Instead, interested parties (defined as developers, reporters and the curious) can register their wish to learn more by supplying their e-mail details via a form as the bottom of the Magic Leap home page.

So far, Magic Leap has demonstrated various iterations of their equipment to assorted people from the technology and entertainments industries. All seem to have been thoroughly impressed – although sworn to secrecy – which has been frustrating for those trying to figure out exactly what the company has got. This approach actually continues with this pre-announcement about Magic Leap One – Rolling Stone magazine has an extensive article about Magic Leap in Glixel – but the use of an NDA prevents much in the way of really solid facts around the technology from being revealed, while descriptions of environments are sans images.

Telepresence with Magic Leap One? Credit: Magic Leap

There are, however, some intriguing little pieces of information within the article – such as this ability to generate very life-like characters, which Brian Crecente, writing for Glixel, suggests could become a kind of virtual assistant for those using the Magic Leap:

She walked up to me, stopping a few feet away, to stand nearby. The level of detail was impressive, though I wouldn’t mistake her for a real person, there was something about her luminescence, her design, that gave her away. While she didn’t talk or react to what I was saying, she has the ability to [do so] … I noticed that when I moved or looked around, her eyes tracked mine. The cameras inside the Lightwear was feeding her data so she could maintain eye contact. It was a little unnerving and I found myself breaking eye contact eventually, to avoid being rude.

One day, this human construct will be your Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, OK Google, but she won’t just be a disembodied voice, she will walk with you, look to you, deliver AI-powered, embodied assistance.

Which sounds very sci-fi-ish, raising the idea of virtual tour guides and suchlike – as well as the question of whether or not we’ll have to cross the uncanny valley with AR as well as (possibly) VR.

I’m somewhat of the belief that AR / MR has the potential to be far more ubiquitous that VR, and garner a much larger, multi-use audience. The likes of Glass Enterprise and several of snapdragon headsets demonstrate considerable interest within healthcare, engineering and retail. The very nature of the technology means it can be integrated far more easily into our everyday lives and work than VR allows. That said, where and if Magic Leap fits into all of this remains as murky as ever. Perhaps the upcoming “Creator Portal”, promised for “early 2018”, coupled with a lifting of the restrictions concerning direct reporting on the system will do more to answer questions.

AltspaceVR acquired by Microsoft

Courtesy of AltspaceVR

What a ride. We cried, we laughed, we overdosed on caffeine… but now we’re dancing in our headsets! For those of you that didn’t witness the drama of the last few months, we had to close down in July but thanks to the love you sent out to the internet, others took notice.

With the AltspaceVR team on-board we look forward to building the world’s pre-eminent mixed reality community.

So opens a blog post from AltspaceVR announcing the company has been acquired by Microsoft, as confirmed by an announcement by the tech giant at its Mixed Reality Event. It marks the end of a rough couple of months for the company.

In July (as I covered here), the AltSpaceVR was set to say “goodbye” in early August. It would have been a sad end to a company which had done much to lay the basis of “social VR”, and had hosted events featuring the likes of Reggie Watts, Drew Carey and Bill “the Science Guy” Nye; the company even hosted events with NBC news during the 2016 US Presidential election.

However, rumours soon began circulating that perhaps the company might continue, and on August 15th, barely a week after closure, the company confirmed this looked like it would be the case and theey were in talks with a third-party. At the time, many thought Oculus VR co-founder and wannabe political backer, Palmer Luckey might be behind moves to rescue / revive AltspaceVR (see here). ow we know that third-party was in fact Microsoft – led, apparently, by Alex Kipman.

Kipman, a 17-year veteran at Microsoft, cut his teeth with the company on the Xbox, and created the Kinect motion controller. Since 2015, he has been a technical fellow for the company’s Operating Systems Group, with a specific focus on the company’s evolving AR systems, such as the HoloLens, which he also credited with inventing. The AltspaceVR blog post notes in reference to him:

Many members of the AltspaceVR team worked hard in the following days and weeks to make sure the technology lived on. They connected with Alex Kipman and found a natural overlap between his goals for mixed reality and their hopes for the future of AltspaceVR. 

Alex Kipman, the man behind Microsoft’s HoloLens, and seen as key to the company’s acquisition of AltspaceVR

The AltspaceVR blog post also lays things out pretty clearly: not only has Microsoft acquired Altspace VR, they have no plans to absorb it: the company will apparently be free to continue working with other platforms and maintain its identity as a business entity.

AltspaceVR will stay AltspaceVR. Microsoft is most interested in preserving the current community that uses AltspaceVR to connect and interact with new and old friends. These first few months will focus on fostering our community and making sure AltspaceVR remains a friendly, welcoming and vibrant place to hang out in virtual reality.

AltspaceVR will continue to work on PC and Mac in 2D mode, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Daydream by Google, and Samsung Gear VR.

Does this mean AltSpaceVR will be integrated into the AR offerings Microsoft has and is planning? Insofar as the HoloLens itself is concerned, the answer appears to be “no” – at least for the present.

However, the Microsoft is aiming to distinguish its “mixed reality” platform for VR headsets running Windows 10. and will be releasing a slew of headsets with OEM partners at an aggressive Us $299 pricing start point. So it might be that they see AltspaceVR  – or capabilities developed from it – as a potential fit into this arena as it grows. Again, as the AltspceVR blog post notes:

Microsoft is excited to incorporate communications technology into our mixed reality ecosystem. AltspaceVR takes personal connections, combines them with real-time experiences, and leverages immersive presence to share experiences. Situations of people, places, and things have deeper meaning and in turn, are more memorable. We’re excited to see how far this technology can go.

Inside AltspaceVR: avatar customisation

Of the move, Microsoft had this to say via a press release:

AltspaceVR is one of the pioneers in immersive communications bringing people together in virtual reality from over 160 countries to attend meet-ups, comedy shows, yoga classes, dance parties, and large-scale events …

With the AltspaceVR team on-board we look forward to building the world’s pre-eminent mixed reality community.

The full terms of the deal have not been released. Prior to hit financial difficulties earlier in 2017, AltspaceVR had raised some US $26.3 million in funding through two rounds of investment, with US $16 million raised in 2014, and a further US $10.3 million raised in a second round of funding led by Raine Ventures.

Sansar and VR / AR in the press

AppliedVR: VR support for hospital patients. Credit: AppliedVR (see below)

This month has seen some interesting press pieces popping up concerning VR and Sansar since the opening of the Creator Beta. However, three in particular have so far caught my eye as they appeared, as they offer interesting perspectives and discussion points both on the Lab’s new platform and on VR and AR as a whole.

The first – and most recent, is Barely into Beta, Sansar is making social VR look good, by Alice Bonasio, which appeared in The Next Web on August 18th. The title caused some to question Sansar’s social capabilities, but the article itself was more about Sansar’s overall status and development, rather than zeroing directly into the medium of “social VR” per se. In this respect, it opens by clearly underlining the platform is still in its early days, and there is still much to be done, using a quote from Peter Gray, the Lab’s Director of Global Communications, to do so:

We wanted to make Sansar available to everyone as early as possible, and there are still a lot of features and capabilities that we’re excited to add to the platform soon, as well as many improvements to the current featureset.

Alice Bonasio: looking at Sansar

From here, Ms Bonasio makes the point that despite the lack of features and capabilities which will be needed to fulfil on its promise of being a social hub, it already looks good and offers a lot to see, much of which points to the platform’s potential.

The piece also delves into some of the technical and economic factors which set Sansar apart: such as Linden Lab’s partnerships with IKinema and Speech Graphics. The former is key to the Sansar avatars utilising Inverse Kinematics in an advanced way, and which are and will play a key role in the Sansar avatar’s development. The latter is key to synchronising facial animations automatically to match speech patterns, a capability key to many of the social interactions Linden Lab hope will be occurring within Sansar.

The article also touches on some of the key differences between Sansar and Second Life, the ability Linden Lab has to take fourteen years of running a virtual world to help shape the philosophy and approach it takes with Sansar. Passing – but important – mention is made of the Lab’s ability to self-finance Sansar; given the topsy-turvy situation with Altspace VR (which may have been saved from having to close), this is an important fact to keep in mind.

As noted above, the piece has received some feedback questioning the “social” element of Sansar at it stands at present, which given the broader thrust of the article might be considered a little out-of-context. However, it is fair to say that right now Sansar does currently lack elements which could be regarded as essential to supporting larger-scale social activities. Similarly, while social interactions are possible – as demonstrated through the daily meet-ups held “in-worlds” – it’s also fair to say these can be confusing and limiting for some. For example, undisciplined voice chat can mean that that multiple conversations in a single locale can overlay one another and become confusing to those not used to voice chat.

Hopefully these issues will be addressed, along with the provision of other social elements, and I’ll doubtless have more to say on them myself in the future 🙂 . In the meantime, this article provides a good summation of Sansar for the curious / those wishing to catch-up on things.

Samantha Cole examines VR’s role in conference calls

Over at The Fast Company, Samantha Cole uses Sansar to ask Will Virtual Reality Solve Your Conference Call Nightmares?

I’ll say up-front that I’m one of the non-believers that VR will become ubiquitous for business-style conference calls for a number of reasons, and its fair to say that Samantha Cole does a balanced job of presenting both sides of the argument – whilst also offering side pointers to those areas where VR is already showing benefits (and which I’d suggest Sansar could leverage).

Much has been made of VR’s abilities to add body language, hand movements, eye movement and contact – all vital elements in adding subliminal feedback / context to our day-to-day, face-to-face interactions to one another – to give more depth and meaning to tele- and video-style conferencing. In doing so, the likes of the telephone and “traditional” means of this type of conferencing have been somewhat “demonised”. Emphasis is laid on things like network latency, or the extra mental effort involved in reading into people’s words when you can only hear their voice or see their head / shoulders, as “limiting” such interactions.

But the truth is, we’ve been using the telephone for decades as a business tool. It’s fast and convenient, and as adults, we’re all pretty adept on picking-up on vocal nuances. We’re also, in a business context, far more prepared to communicate directly with colleagues; if there is something worrying / irksome within a work environment / business project, most of us are pretty willing to make thought known, be they over the ‘phone, face-to-face or via e-mail. So even with the faster, lighter, better VR technology we’re promised will be coming down the pipe, is it really any kind of “killer app” for business conferencing?

Eric Boyd, a professor of marketing at James Madison University points to emerging trends within the workplace as a whole being more a deciding factor here. Many companies have experimented with remote / home working over the past 2 or so decades, and the pendulum tends to swing back and forth. Right now, as the article points out, one of the first to enter the arena of remote working, IBM, is currently backing away from it. Thus, if working practices remain centralised, it’s hard to see VR overturning technologies already in place and supported by existing corporate infrastructure, no matter what the perceptions of their “limitations”. But for those organisations continuing to embrace remote working, VR could become a useful meeting tool.

Certainly there would seem to be far better uses VR could be put towards within a business environment: prototyping, training, simulations, and so on, which seem far more likely to drive its adoption by business and industry far more than the humble conference call. In this, Cole’s pointing to VR’s potential in training and simulation and in architecture is very salient; these are very much markets well suited to VR / AR / MR – perhaps more so that conference calls.

Amitt Mahajan – taking the temperature of the VR / AR market

Writing for Xconomy, Bernadette Tansey sits down with Amitt Mahajan, a Managing Partner at Presence Capital to take the temperature at VR / AR at mid-year., which also touches on the potential for both as business platforms / tools.

While Sansar is only mentioned in passing (together with the downs and ups of AltspaceVR), the article is interesting as it encompasses the viewpoint of a company investing in VR and AR start-ups with funding in the US $100,000-500,000 range – which is small when compared to the likes of the big players, but has allowed the company to bask some significant start-ups, including STRIVR, who are in the VR training a simulation field mentioned above.

The article opens which a rapid-fire overview of the VR / AR market – including its niche status at present, which could be said to be largely down to the limitations of the current hardware (or lack thereof in AR’s case, although that is beginning to change) rather than anything else. However, the meat of the piece is where Mahajan sees the technologies going over the next several years.

What’s interesting here is that within Presence Capital, they are moving away from consumer-focused VR endeavours and more towards business and business-to-business (B2B) / enterprise VR applications as well as for AR; he points to the likes of AppliedVR and their development of an immersive platform to help comfort patients  undergoing painful procedures, and also underlines VR’s application in training.

This year’s swing towards AR is also examined: Google, Apple and Facebook are all looking to develop AR platforms, and the discussion looks at these and at the questions of standards, formats, and enabling technologies. In this, Mahajan points somewhat towards the eventual merger of AR and VR to produce Mixed Reality, indirectly pointing to how AR – augmented reality – could actually become an enabler of VR (something the likes of Qualcomm are working towards with Android and their snapdragon chipset), simply because it will allow both to coexists as tools people can switch between according to needs.

All three article make for interesting reads, presenting a broad range of perspectives not just on Sansar (in the case of Alice Bonasio’s piece) but on VR and AR as whole.