q and a on vr and ar

Interview questions and answers for C114.com. We’ll see how the world plays out…


1. Many from the tech industry believe that 2016 will see the outbreak of VR/AR. What is IEEE’s view on this?

Since consumer units will finally start shipping this year, we’ll see the hype increase. My guess is that supplies will be constrained though, and demand will probably remain high, with that easing in 2017. There will be a lot of excitement, but also probably some disappointment, as some (or many) will complain that the content is not great, and simulation sickness (“simsickness”) will affect people.

2.The development of new technology requires adoption to real-life scenarios. Which industries do you think will be the adopters of VR/AR technology on a large scale? What are/will be the biggest obstacles for VR/AR’s development?

Games and entertainment are the biggest area right now, mostly because that market tends to be early adopters and the content is most easily moved to the VR or AR space (for instance, games engines like Unity). There already is industrial use of AR on assembly lines and in design/engineering work, and some companies have been using caves (immersive projection) for some time. Longer term I think education and health care/fitness will be large markets, and VR/AR will be part of a bigger “immersive” set of experiences that also include body sensors and other data sources.

The biggest obstacles are in content creation. This is a new medium – just like film was in 1900. It will take time for developers to figure out how to use AR/VR effectively. Right now it is mostly novelty but that will wear off, especially as it gets further into the consumer space. Probably the best content examples will be “experiential” – where a person can go somewhere they couldn’t otherwise go (like Mars, or Egypt, or imaginary worlds), or revisit somewhere they’ve been (next-generation “travel photos”). Telling stories in AR/VR – we really don’t know how to do that well if at all right now. AR/VR gives the user a vote in where they look and go, so many of our narrative techniques break down. There will need to be breakthroughs in how we engage humans and “tell a story” in these immersive spaces.

3.Do you think VR/AR devices will become as popular as smartphones? If so, when will that be? What do you think the world will be like when it takes full advantages of VR/AR technology?

There is the potential for VR/AR devices to be the next smartphone (replace or be a hybrid), but I think that is probably 10 years off. I think the smartphone will continue to be the “hub” of people’s digital world, and it will tie in with other hardware and software. That already is happening now with some VR/AR capabilities (like GearVR) and body computing (Apple Watch, Basis Peak, Fitbit, etc). Glasses will be a likely form factor, especially with an aging population that requires reading glasses. While the smart phone was something else that people had to learn to carry, at some point a person only wants to have so many things with them (keys, wallet, phone, etc). So VR/AR capabilities at some point probably needs to replace some of that. The phone probably will replace keys and wallet – that is already happening to some extent. That will probably expand as the Internet of Things grows and matures.

4.What do you think are the relations between VR and AR? And what progress has been made for the establishment of VR/AR standards?

I believe the lines between VR and AR will blur and eventually merge into what I call an “emulsion” with the physical world. Some refer to this as “mixed reality” – which is a combination of virtual and physical. But I think they really don’t mix – humans and digital are like oil and vinegar. You can put them together but they need some binder to keep them together (I think story is one of those binders).

The other concept that I talk about is breaking time and space. Technology has been doing this for a long time – from the printing press to the telephone to television to smartphones. But the pace of change and technology capabilities has drastically increased so humans are struggling to adapt. Since the user remains analog (i.e. human), bringing digital content and experiences to them still has some degree of disconnect. As humans become more immersed, that disconnect becomes more difficult to work with and more profound. It is one thing to sit and watch a movie. It is another to wear a head mount and experience a virtual world. It is another to have a head mount and body tracking and haptic feedback and audio immersion. Figuring out how to make these experiences meaningful will be a challenge.
As for standards – like any competitive technology, there will be challenges and it will be a constant struggle for developers and consumers to sort through their options.

5.What do you think about the development and evolution of VR/AR devices?

As I said above, content is the biggest challenge. The commercial sector will continue to create better hardware and new devices. And people will create digital content and experiences for them. There will be AR/VR in schools and the homes – but it isn’t clear exactly how people will use and need them, and more importantly, *why* people should use them. There will likely be a lot of AR/VR applications that frankly aren’t very good, and are not effective or appropriate uses of the technology. It will be AR/VR just for the sake of AR/VR – the new toy in the room. But there will be use cases that will have a profound impact on our lives (for instance we’ve used it for treating people with Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury).

More importantly, as the world around us becomes more digital and we immerse ourselves further into this mix, we need to continue to think about what it is that makes us profoundly human, and make sure we don’t lose that. The physical world remains compelling and provides experiences that cannot be replicated in AR/VR – rather, only approximated. We can use AR/VR to augment our human experience in amazing, but I hope we continue to foster human interaction and don’t lose sight of those relationships.

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