[Artwork by Jim Stoten, representing VR on a street scene being used for games and communication.]
Humans love interaction. Be it with people or animals, we love it if they respond appropriately according to our actions – it’s hardwired deep within our systems. This love for interaction has also been the driving force of improved input-output systems between us and our digital world. Keypads have made way to touchscreens and now sensors are taking over to improve user-system communication.
All this has in turn given rise to virtual reality. A constantly growing concept since the ‘80s, it has come to the forefront recently in the form of consumer virtual reality devices, to bring a completely different level of interfacing.
But is there a visible trend? How does the future bode in the world of advanced interaction? In this article, I throw some light on all things VR.
A LITTLE FOUNDATION FIRST
To understand the trends and predict the scope of something, a great deal can be gathered from the definition itself. So, keeping this in mind, allow me to go over the definition of virtual reality.
Virtual Reality (VR) can be defined as, “a medium that dissolves the boundaries between computer generated worlds and reality, using appropriate software and hardware systems.”
VR has been showcased as the future of interaction (thank you, sci-fi movies!), and the prospects do look very promising. Head Mounted Displays are garnering more and more popularity, as are tracker systems and quite a few unconventional methods as well.
After the foundation, let’s look at the major building block of Virtual Reality systems – the hardware. As I’ve discussed in my previous article on IOTs, sensors and various other components are now easily available and are in fact much cheaper.
It is quite interesting to note that Moore’s law is gathering new dimensions to its definition as well. While same components are becoming cheaper, they are also getting a wide gamut of added functionalities, which in turn paves the way for more development in the field of VR!
Moreover, VR systems are now more easily available to developers. A new approach has arisen in this field, wherein instead of one singular entity taking time to develop things, the development kit has been made available to developers around the world who in turn help develop new applications and software based on the system. It leads to much faster growth and increased efficiency of the overall ecosystem, and that is extremely encouraging in this regard!
HARDWARE ALREADY AVAILABLE
A wide range of hardware is already available in the market for virtual reality systems. While HMDs (as seen in the Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard) are the most popular ones, there’s also hand/glove/body/foot controlled devices. Also worthy of mention are haptic controllers and 3D systems for perfect visualization and interaction with the digital world.
The useful graphs from KZero (great job, guys!) give a very accurate and elaborated depiction of all the major players in the VR world – as per category of interaction, and availability.
(The complete data can be found here).
SCOPE FOR VR IN GENERAL
While VR has been perceived to be more of an accessory for gaming, owing to the huge popularity of the Oculus systems, the scope of its usage can extend to quite a few interesting fields as well. Virtual Reality systems has stepped out of the realms of simple entertainment and is now making its presence felt in major industries.
Surgeons now train with VR based simulators to sort of ‘practise’ and hone their skills, before actually working with a real human.
Pilots undergo training in advanced VR simulators to fully experience the conditions within an actual cockpit. Over the years, simulators have evolved in functionality – earlier, they simply replicated conditions, but with advanced VR systems, they can now respond appropriately according to the pilot’s commands.
Designing vehicles of any kind in three dimensions is a lot more fun than designing in two, and that’s where VR comes handy!
Once again, the added element of dimension comes into play here, and it’s much quicker and easier to develop games and characters in three dimensions, as apparent from the image below.
A very relevant and interesting example of VR’s scope would be to understand data. Think about it, visualizing analytics and statistics in VR systems would radically change the way information is perceived by big data corps, which would in turn make data more effective and understandable.
Besides these, Virtual Reality systems can also change the way we browse the internet, communicate, keep up to date with our social media… the list goes on and on!
With the help of event stream processing (like the SAS Event Steam Processing Engine), immersive user interface, data driven audio and motion controlled navigation, VR systems are truly getting the impetus needed to gain a stronghold in the digital world.
ADDITIONAL FACTORS FOR VR’s GROWTH
One word: Acquisition.
Case in point being Oculus, which after being acquired by Facebook, shot up the popularity charts. Moreover, it received the funding and support that would no doubt be useful for the implementation and development of VR based systems by the company.
And it’s also encouraging to see Oculus in turn acquiring new corporations in the VR arena! Nimble VR (which develops machine learning and computer vision systems), 13th Lab (which develops 3D Reconstruction framework) and individuals like Chris Bregler have come into an association with Oculus, which shows two things:
1. That Oculus – a VR company – is now being equipped to increase its base like never before.
2. Collective collaboration of different entities will ensure a more fruitful result being generated.
(The official report can be found here.)
Besides that is the research already being conducted. Extensive work has been carried out by facilities such as ARC (Augmentation Research Center) and PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). There are major specialization degrees and programs too. All in all, VR is truly an up and coming field!
Alright, enough about what has been and what already is, let’s take a look at what the future holds in store for Virtual Reality in general.
According to the recent projections by KZero, few things can be forecasted:
1. The consumer virtual reality market will be worth $5.2 billion by 2018.
2. The revenue from Consumer VR device sales in 2018 is forecasted at $2.3 billion (from 23 million units sold), which in turn yields a total cumulative revenue of a whopping $8.4 billion over the 5 year period.
3. In the arena of home gaming consoles alone, IBISWorld Media forecasts the revenue in 2018 to reach a mind boggling $46 billion.
4. As far as unit sales are concerned, 2015 sales are forecasted at 5.7 million units rising to a staggering 23.8 million units in 2018.
5. The total unit sale over the five year period from 2014 and 2018 is forecasted to stand at 56.8mn.
6. Software revenues can be projected to rise from $30m (in 2014) to $957m (in 2015) to $2.8bn (in 2018). The cumulative revenue in this 5 year period can be estimated to be about $7.7bn.
(The detailed report can be found here.)
Virtual Reality has always been one of the key points which comes to mind when one hears the word ‘futuristic’. It can be seen as technology with one primary goal : to let users experience something new, to let them have a truly authentic experience and to let them believe that technology is not a separate entity altogether.
I’d like to see more VR innovations in the future in various applications and devices which already exist. To me, that would be a genuine breakthrough – not just for VR, but for technology, digital science and cognitive systems in general!