Virtual Reality: What’s Science Fiction and Science Fact?

Virtual Reality: What’s Science Fiction and Science Fact?

Chris Lancaster - Graduate Software Engineer

By: Chris Lancaster
Graduate Software Engineer

7th June 2017

Home » Future

When the term ‘Virtual Reality (VR)’ is brought up, it instantly conjures the picture of a person being placed inside a Computer Generated Image (CGI) environment and them interacting with their newly simulated surroundings. Science fiction has used the concept numerous times to craft this far-fetched idea of what technology can do, but is it really beyond our grasp?

Like all technology, it goes through a lifecycle. At first, some new discovery is made and it seems like it could solve all the world’s problems. As news of such a discovery spreads, expectations grow beyond what is currently possible. In the ‘Technology Hype Cycle’, when expectations are at their highest, it is known as the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’. This peak then falls away as people move on with their lives, but that doesn’t mean the technology fades as well.

In fact, it can be quite the opposite, as it is being continually developed and refined over and over again, each time creating new possibilities and applications. Over time, more realistic expectations begin to grow. That’s where virtual reality now sits, on the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’, ready to be put to use in the real world.

The problem isn’t technology, the technology is already here. A simple mobile phone is powerful enough to be able to render an environment in which we can look around and move. Google Cardboard is a cheap way of allowing anyone to take advantage of the power in their pockets. Simply place your phone in the cardboard case and use the Google Cardboard app to render an environment.  On the other end of the scale, there are more complex headsets, such as HTC’s Vive, which not only gives the user the visual experience but allows them to interact with objects in the VR world through the use of controllers.

So if it’s that easy to experience VR, why doesn’t everyone use it?

We have the technology, what we’re lacking is content which the technology can use. It’s a problem that will be solved with time, once content creators understand what can be done with such technology. Currently, the leading market for VR is gaming but what if it could be used for training purposes?

Time Shift Reality

If VR is a CGI environment, then ‘time shift reality’ is the idea of placing someone in another part of the world and in a different time through 360˚ videos /pictures. What you see does actually exist and you can experience it from the comfort of your own home. Take this video for example:

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Footage owned by DiscoveryVR

I can take a gondola ride through Venice and choose where I want to look as if I was actually there. While this example is one of the more relaxing VR experiences, the educational implications are staggering.

Medical Realities is a VR/AR company specialising in medical training videos that puts the viewer inside the operating theatre, overseeing an operation through the eyes of the consultant surgeon. Placing someone within such a procedure is an invaluable experience, yet now it can be re-lived again and again. Each time a different focus can be taken, giving any medical student a complete overview of the inner workings of an operating theatre.

A different industry is real estate, Matterport is a company that builds 3D reconstructions of buildings – creating a “dollhouse” which a user can tour and move around in. It is not a virtual tour, as in a slideshow of images, but one which can be moved through and looked at from multiple different angles. Think Google Street View but for a house. This lets retailers show off their houses to a wider audience and give them the same experience as if they were actually there.

VR is on the up and up, with a prediction that the virtual reality market will be worth $120 billion by 2020. It is certainly an area that you should keep your eye on.

Apple has been doing so with their latest iPhone 7 Plus. Their newest device has a dual rear-facing camera setup. I can only speculate that there isn’t really any need for two cameras unless you want to be able to detect depth – a key requirement for augmented reality (AR).

This combined with the fact that Apple bought leading AR company, Metaio, in 2015 suggests that they’re looking to move into the VR/AR market in the near future. Metaio has also been suspiciously quiet on what they have been working on recently.

VR’s potential is large and far-reaching. Once the content issue is solved, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in classrooms and homes, in much the same way we already have computers in most aspects of our lives. So maybe one day we can all have our own Star Trek Holodeck.

Save

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When the term ‘Virtual Reality (VR)’ is brought up, it instantly conjures the picture of a person being placed inside a Computer Generated Image (CGI) environment and them interacting with their newly simulated surroundings. Science fiction has used the concept numerous times to craft this far-fetched idea of what technology can do, but is it really beyond our grasp?

Like all technology, it goes through a lifecycle. At first, some new discovery is made and it seems like it could solve all the world’s problems. As news of such a discovery spreads, expectations grow beyond what is currently possible. In the ‘Technology Hype Cycle’, when expectations are at their highest, it is known as the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’. This peak then falls away as people move on with their lives, but that doesn’t mean the technology fades as well.

In fact, it can be quite the opposite, as it is being continually developed and refined over and over again, each time creating new possibilities and applications. Over time, more realistic expectations begin to grow. That’s where virtual reality now sits, on the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’, ready to be put to use in the real world.

The problem isn’t technology, the technology is already here. A simple mobile phone is powerful enough to be able to render an environment in which we can look around and move. Google Cardboard is a cheap way of allowing anyone to take advantage of the power in their pockets. Simply place your phone in the cardboard case and use the Google Cardboard app to render an environment.  On the other end of the scale, there are more complex headsets, such as HTC’s Vive, which not only gives the user the visual experience but allows them to interact with objects in the VR world through the use of controllers.

So if it’s that easy to experience VR, why doesn’t everyone use it?

We have the technology, what we’re lacking is content which the technology can use. It’s a problem that will be solved with time, once content creators understand what can be done with such technology. Currently, the leading market for VR is gaming but what if it could be used for training purposes?

Time Shift Reality

If VR is a CGI environment, then ‘time shift reality’ is the idea of placing someone in another part of the world and in a different time through 360˚ videos /pictures. What you see does actually exist and you can experience it from the comfort of your own home. Take this video for example:

Save

Save

Save

Footage owned by DiscoveryVR

I can take a gondola ride through Venice and choose where I want to look as if I was actually there. While this example is one of the more relaxing VR experiences, the educational implications are staggering.

Medical Realities is a VR/AR company specialising in medical training videos that puts the viewer inside the operating theatre, overseeing an operation through the eyes of the consultant surgeon. Placing someone within such a procedure is an invaluable experience, yet now it can be re-lived again and again. Each time a different focus can be taken, giving any medical student a complete overview of the inner workings of an operating theatre.

A different industry is real estate, Matterport is a company that builds 3D reconstructions of buildings – creating a “dollhouse” which a user can tour and move around in. It is not a virtual tour, as in a slideshow of images, but one which can be moved through and looked at from multiple different angles. Think Google Street View but for a house. This lets retailers show off their houses to a wider audience and give them the same experience as if they were actually there.

VR is on the up and up, with a prediction that the virtual reality market will be worth $120 billion by 2020. It is certainly an area that you should keep your eye on.

Apple has been doing so with their latest iPhone 7 Plus. Their newest device has a dual rear-facing camera setup. I can only speculate that there isn’t really any need for two cameras unless you want to be able to detect depth – a key requirement for augmented reality (AR).

This combined with the fact that Apple bought leading AR company, Metaio, in 2015 suggests that they’re looking to move into the VR/AR market in the near future. Metaio has also been suspiciously quiet on what they have been working on recently.

VR’s potential is large and far-reaching. Once the content issue is solved, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in classrooms and homes, in much the same way we already have computers in most aspects of our lives. So maybe one day we can all have our own Star Trek Holodeck.

Save

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