VR is Here and the Future is Now

It wasn’t long ago that we were driving around with a paper map in one hand while stressing about which exit to take on the freeway. That was only a few years ago, now Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are here. VR is now found virtually everywhere… in Drones, headsets and even cereal boxes.

Truth is that emerging technology is becoming increasingly personalized and in return, people have grown accustomed to individualized experiences-- a fair expectation to hold when owning a GPS tasked with solely getting you to your destination is common stock. Your fingertips literally hold the power to unlock a never-ending parade of targeted personal experiences and -- with the up and coming technologies of VR and AI-- we can start expecting many more personalized and fulfilling tech experiences to come.

Two examples of VR gear now available to the mainstream market are provided by Oculus and Samsung; Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR Headset, respectively. Oculus Rift is set to hit the market in the first quarter of 2016 whereas Samsung Gear VR is soon to ship its next version.

Oculus VR acquired Surreal Vision, a company that specializes in recreating actual physical spaces in real time for insertion into a virtual reality environment. Oculus Rift offers up two integrated OLED displays, bolstered by an accumulated 2160 x 1200 pixel crystal clear image and a smooth 90Hz refresh rate. While the Samsung Gear VR presents a fair challenge to the Rift in terms of resolution, the fact that Samsung’s technology requires the use of a Samsung smartphone to function hinders its graphics performance.

Although they very similar in design, Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear are contrived with two very different audiences in mind. For its part, Oculus Rift plans to bring the power of PC gaming to a head-mounted virtual reality display whereas Samsung’s Gear VR is intended as a convenient introductory point to VR for anyone only casually interested in this area of tech -- especially with respect to pricing. Although Oculus Rift’s price hasn’t been set yet, Samsung Gear VR is going for a $99 plus the price of a compatible Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

Oculus Rift

Samsung Gear VR

For under 100 dollars, the same level of immersion as that provided by the Rift will not be guaranteed with Samsung’s Gear VR, but it is a low-cost way of sampling VR. Both Rift and Gear VR are powered by the same company, were designed in conjunction and are intended for different purposes (sampling vs. forward-innovation), therefore comparing these kits against each other is not necessary.

Missing Piece

Despite impressive strides made in the past few years to make VR realistic and affordable, the lack of touch in VR is a factor hindering the experiences delivered by this tech from being deemed “realistic.”

Although Oculus has made innovation in the area of touch through Oculus Touch, it is work by researchers from Germany at the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) lab, that has caught attention. Located in Germany’s Hasso Plattner Institute, a research team has been working on prototypes of a device named Impacto. Integrated into a band worn on the arm, leg or foot of a user, Impacto simulates contact on the wearer.

The team demonstrates the realistic feeling of touch that Impacto delivers through a boxing game example, where the user can actually feel the impact from blocked punches on the arm or through a soccer game, where the player can feel each strike of a soccer ball on the foot.

Impacto isn’t simply a vibrator, but combines a haptic vibration engine with electrical muscle stimulation to create the sensation of pushing or pulling and thus, mimicking the feeling of contact from actual physical objects.

Pedro Lopes, team leader of the research group working on Impacto describes the prototype as “self-contained, wireless, and small enough for wearable use,” essentially a device that “leaves the user unencumbered and able to walk freely in a virtual environment” Lopes adds. Here is a video of the HCI team’s Impacto prototype in action.

If successful, Impacto modules could be combined to form a suit of sorts that would give the wearer multiple contact points. Rather than only feeling a jab on the arm or leg, VR users could experience physical contact with an object (or person) all over their body.

VR technology will certainly have many more purposes than simply gaming and movie-watching. Oculus VR has announced that it has its visions set on delivering devices to ultimately allow a user to remotely attend meetings halfway around the world in real time. No longer should VR kits simply exhibit a representation captured months beforehand, but be a medium through which users can view friends and family in real time with and call it a visit.

To do this, Oculus VR and Surreal Vision are using state-of-the-art 3D scene reconstruction algorithms to provide rich and up-to-date models of everything in the environment -- including the people present in these environments. Updates on their tech developments are reported in their developer’s blog. Oculus VR is developing techniques to capture, interpret, manage, and reproject the models of reality back to the user as faithfully as possible.

Much work still remains if the door to telepresence -- where people can visit anyone, anywhere-- is to be unlocked. Requirements to fulfill include: Ensuring that the accuracy and quality of continuously updating 3D reconstruction be near flawless, to the point that VR users perceive this world as truly real among other technicalities.

Given the resources and shared vision, there is nothing in the area of telepresence that will not be achieved with VR and AR in the years to come and Lolay is excited to start tinkering with VR technology.

One day not too far from today, VR gear and software will allow users to feel the cracks, motions, textures and weight of the VR world and the objects in it. Contact us online today or subscribe to our email for updates on the exciting projects we are up to!