How VR, AR, and the metaverse will change our lives - maybe
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) have the potential to significantly change the way people interact with the world and each other.
Oculus VR, a company specializing in VR technology, was acquired by Facebook in 2014. It helped to raise a fresh and new awareness of VR and sparked a resurgence of interest in the technology... at least for a bit. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, (Now Meta Platforms, Inc), has placed his bets. He’s all in, chips to the center of the table, and a sinister commitment to his headset-filled dystopia. The stage is set as he walks the campus - “nevermind the stock price, don’t look at that. Just trust me, it’s gonna be awesome!” He spoke to the Verge back in 2017 (which feels like an eternity ago), and predicted his own steps toward this future.
“I believe that virtual and augmented reality are going to be the next major computing platform that will come after mobile. Just like mobile gave rise to new companies like Uber and Snapchat and WhatsApp, and completely changed the way we communicate and build businesses, VR and AR are going to give us that next platform that will enable even more types of amazing experiences and completely new kinds of businesses.”
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook
Oculus VR was founded in 2012 by Palmer Luckey, Brendan Iribe, and Michael Antonov. The company specializes in virtual reality (VR) hardware and software products. Oculus VR’s first product, the Oculus Rift, was released in 2016 and was designed for use with personal computers. The company has since released a number of other VR products. The Oculus Quest is a standalone VR headset that doesn't require a separate computer. Oculus VR is considered one of the pioneers in the VR industry and has played a significant role in advancing the technology and making it more accessible to the general public.
If you’re not as familiar, AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) are companion technologies that allow users to experience the digital environments. However, they have a fundamental difference.
AR technology involves adding digital elements to the user's physical environment, allowing them to see the real world with a digital overlay. The best known example of this is the heads up display in a fighter jet. AR enhances the physical world with virtual information. This allows the user to interact with digital objects without walking into walls. Alternatively, the user may interact normally with the physical world while monitoring information of interest, such as the price of bauxite in China, in a digital overlay. Finally, the digital overlay may respect and enhance perception of the physical world as well as throw in some digital tidbits, to the relief, say, of our fighter pilot approaching the carrier on a foggy evening. I believe I will await the VR version of that AR use case...
VR technology, on the other hand, completely immerses the user in a digital environment, blocking out the physical world. The user is transported to a virtual world and interacts with digital objects within that world. The user can experience a completely artificial environment, where all senses are stimulated to give a more realistic experience. To continue with our fighter pilot example, the aforementioned VR simulation of the real world AR might allow the pilot in training to embrace the adage “never accept a low ball” without actually dying in a fiery crash into the stern of the ship.
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) have the potential to significantly change the way people interact with the world and each other.
With all the skepticism, there are a handful of AR/VR industries that seem to be ripe for the first fruits of Zuck’s investments...
AR and VR in education
- Military software and hardware experiential training / education
VR simulations can be used to train military personnel in realistic combat scenarios, allowing them to practice their skills and strategies in a safe and controlled environment. Not only physically, but using digital software and digital experiences as a military professional can be simulated in VR. It’s actually a thing already. A famous example of using VR simulations for military training is the US military's use of the Virtual Battlespace 2 (VBS2) software. VBS2 is a realistic and immersive virtual training environment that allows military personnel to practice a wide range of skills and scenarios, from individual soldier training to large-scale combined arms operations. It can simulate a variety of environments, from urban areas to deserts and jungles, and allows for the integration of various military hardware and software systems. The use of VBS2 and other VR training tools has been shown to improve military readiness and effectiveness, while also reducing the risk of injury and damage that can occur during live training exercises.
”Virtual Battlespace 2 represents a revolution in military training. With this technology, we can provide our soldiers with the most realistic and immersive training experience possible, allowing them to prepare for the challenges of modern warfare in a safe and controlled environment. By using VBS2, we are able to reduce the risk of injury and damage that can occur during live training exercises, while also improving the effectiveness and readiness of our troops.”
- Major General James C. Boozer Sr., Vice President of Training and Simulation Solutions at Raytheon Intelligence and Information Services.
- Public safety
AR and VR can be used by first responders, such as police and firefighters, to train for and respond to emergencies. The technology can also be used to help people prepare for disasters, such as earthquakes or hurricanes.
AR and VR can be used to enhance tourism experiences, such as by providing virtual tours of historical sites and landmarks.
- Primary and secondary education
VR can be used to provide students with immersive learning experiences, allowing them to explore subjects and topics in new and engaging ways.
- Infrastructure planning
AR and VR can be used to visualize and test new infrastructure projects, such as highways and bridges, in a virtual environment before construction begins.
AR and VR in Healthcare
- Medical training
VR simulations can be used to train medical professionals in a safe and controlled environment, allowing them to practice procedures and techniques without putting real patients at risk. This might require adjunctive devices to provide subtle tactile feedback.
- Patient education
AR and VR can be used to educate patients about their conditions, procedures, and treatments. The technology can help patients better understand their diagnosis and the steps they need to take to manage their health.
- Pain management
VR has been shown to be effective in reducing pain in patients by distracting them from their physical symptoms and allowing them to focus on a digital environment. The ultimate in guided imagery...
- Physical therapy
AR and VR can be used to assist in physical therapy by providing patients with virtual environments that help them practice movements and exercises. I had a little trouble with this one. Perhaps if the subject is on a physical rowing machine and must row vigorously to avoid going over a virtual waterfall...
- Mental health treatment
VR can be used to treat various mental health conditions, such as phobias, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), by exposing patients to virtual simulations of their fears in a controlled environment. The hope would be to progressively desensitize them.
AR and VR in Entertainment
VR has already been embraced by the gaming industry as a new platform for gaming experiences. VR games allow players to fully immerse themselves in a digital environment and interact with the game world in new and exciting ways.
- Film and TV
VR and AR can be used to create new forms of storytelling, such as 360-degree films and TV shows that put the viewer in the center of the action.
VR and AR can be used to create new and immersive music experiences, such as virtual concerts and music videos. This is happening already, all the time. Lady Gaga performed a virtual reality concert in collaboration with Intel at the 2016 Grammy Awards. Björk, who has incorporated VR technology into her music videos and live performances, created stunning and surreal visual experiences in her VR experience in 2022. The Weeknd teamed up with TikTok to create an augmented reality experience for his hit single Save Your Tears, allowing fans to interact with a virtual version of The Weeknd in their homes. Rapper/singer Travis Scott performed a virtual concert inside the popular game Fortnite. DJ and digital music artist, Deadmau5, used VR technology to create immersive music videos and live shows.
- Theme parks
VR and AR can be used to enhance theme park experiences by providing guests with virtual and augmented rides, attractions, and shows. The virtual cardiologist should be present prior to taking a VR enhanced ride while on an actual physical roller coaster.
VR and AR can be used to enhance sports broadcasting and fan experiences. For example, viewers could use VR headsets to experience live games from multiple camera angles and get an immersive look at the action.
AR and VR in Remote Work
Michael G. Moore, a professor of education and technology at Pennsylvania State University, has held the belief that this is the killer app for AR and VR. In a recent interview, Moore discussed the potential of AR and VR to transform remote work, allowing individuals to collaborate and communicate in immersive and engaging virtual environments. He emphasized the importance of designing these virtual environments with user experience in mind, and of integrating AR and VR seamlessly into existing workflows and tools. Moore sees great potential in AR and VR for improving remote work productivity and collaboration, and believes that these technologies will become increasingly important in the years to come.
“Virtual reality will fundamentally change the nature of remote work by allowing us to collaborate and communicate in new and innovative ways. With VR headsets, individuals can feel like they are in the same room, even if they are thousands of miles apart. This level of immersion and engagement can greatly enhance productivity and teamwork, while also reducing the isolation and disconnection that can come with remote work. As VR technology continues to evolve, we can expect to see even more exciting applications for remote work, from virtual brainstorming sessions to immersive training and simulations.”
Michael G. Moore
Specifically, in the remote work space, here’s a handful of real-world practical predicted use cases for VR:
- Virtual meetings
VR can be used to create virtual meeting spaces where remote workers can meet and collaborate in a shared digital environment. Virtual team performance is enhanced by platforms that allow synchronous or asynchronous work on a shared object.
- Remote training
VR can be used to train remote workers in a safe and controlled environment, allowing them to practice procedures and techniques without putting themselves or others at risk.
- Remote presentations
AR and VR can be used to enhance remote presentations and demonstrations, allowing presenters to share information and data in new and interactive ways. Realtors might present a virtual tour of a house to remote potential buyers.
- Remote design and prototyping
AR and VR can be used to enhance remote design and prototyping, allowing teams to collaborate and iterate on designs in a virtual environment.
AR and VR in Retail
- Product visualization
AR can be used to provide customers with an interactive view of products, allowing them to see how items look and fit in real-world settings.
- Virtual try-on
VR can be used to create virtual fitting rooms, allowing customers to try on clothing and accessories in a virtual environment before making a purchase.
- Interactive product demonstrations
AR and VR can be used to provide customers with interactive product demonstrations, allowing them to explore products and their features in new and engaging ways.
- Remote shopping
VR can be used to create virtual storefronts and showrooms, allowing customers to shop from the comfort of their own homes.
- In-store experiences
AR and VR can be used to enhance in-store experiences, such as by providing customers with virtual tours, product demonstrations, and interactive displays.
Here's what Rony Abovitz, the founder and former CEO of Magic Leap, a company that specializes in mixed reality technology (which combines elements of AR and VR), has said about the potential of these technologies: "I think mixed reality is going to be the most powerful medium of our time, and that's because it's going to blend the digital world with the physical world in a way that we've never seen before"
Challenges for software professionals embarking on the long and arduous learning curve of AR/VR
Quoting Zuck once more, “....if you think about what the ultimate expression of social technology is, you’re not going to get it on a phone. So that’s why we’re investing so much money and so many of our top people in trying to invent and accelerate the development of this next platform. Because it’s going to enable, I think, the ultimate expression of what we set out to do: building social software.”
The goal is understood... But the SDK and the platform is not an easy dragon to tame. Developing software for AR and VR poses some very real and hard-to-solve challenges, including:
- Hardware constraints and hardware expense
Strapping a small PC to your face is fraught with challenges. AR and VR applications require significant computing power and resources to deliver a seamless and immersive experience. This can be a challenge for developers, who must optimize their software to run efficiently on a wide range of hardware configurations.
- User experience design is waaaaay different in AR/VR
AR and VR applications require a unique approach to user experience design, as users interact with virtual objects and environments in three-dimensional space. Developers must consider factors such as depth perception, field of view, and motion sickness when designing their applications.
- Integration with existing systems is not what you’d think it is
AR and VR applications often need to integrate with existing software systems, such as customer relationship management (CRM) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. This can be a complex task, requiring careful planning and development to ensure seamless integration.
- Limited developer resources (because nobody is doing this, still)
The field of AR and VR development is still relatively new, and there is a shortage of experienced developers with the skills and expertise needed to build high-quality applications. This can make it difficult for organizations to find the talent they need to develop AR and VR applications.
- Rapidly evolving technology
AR and VR technology is rapidly evolving, with new hardware and software platforms emerging on a regular basis. This can make it challenging for developers to keep up with the latest trends and ensure that their applications are compatible with the latest hardware and software platforms.
The potential of this technology is just emerging, and it is hard to think of a better candidate to respect Amara’s Law- for new technology, we tend to overestimate the impact in the short run but to underestimate it in the long run...
- AR is getting its roots in retail, selling e-commerce to kids and moms from the living room floor.
- VR is getting started with tech and gamers, selling video games and unique experiences that you simply can’t get anywhere else.
- Developing in AR and VR is gonna be nascent and difficult for a while.
- It’s not for every business model, but could be great for some.
- It’s really early, still.