At the moment, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are focussed on industry and gaming applications, with the average consumer unlikely to start buying into the technology until 2017.
The rise of these technologies is unstoppable. AR market revenue is now forecast to reach $90 billion by 2020, eventually outcompeting VR, which is likely to reach $30 billion. At the moment, VR is more openly available and has emerging uses beyond videogames, in viewing films and sporting events.
Ultimately, we’re likely to see the two technologies merging into a new “mixed reality”. There’s huge opportunity for smartphone manufacturers to consider this by creating devices fitted with AR cameras and sensors.
So what kinds of AR and VR technologies are already out there? It’s the major developers like Microsoft, Google and Samsung that are grabbing the headlines, but there’s much more going on in the field of augmented reality than you might first think. We’ve summarised the key players and emerging competitors here.
Virtual reality (VR) transports the user out of their everyday world and immerses them in a 360-degree environment. It gives users the chance to experience things that would be impossible in real life. While VR is generally more affordable and accessible at the moment, most headsets have to be tethered to a computer, limiting the range of interaction. Motion sickness can be an issue for some users but developers are working to overcome this.
The Oculus Rift headset is now available for pre-orders. At a pricey $599, the kit does include the headset, an XBox One controller and wireless receiver, remote and two VR games. Oculus also powers the mobile VR Samsung Gear (see next section).
Rumoured to be launching in Autumn 2016, PlayStation VR will bring VR gaming to a big audience and has the opportunity to turn it mainstream. However, many of the details are still under wraps.
On the other hand, the OSVR system (Open Source Virtual Reality) is designed to bring developers together to push forward the boundaries of VR. Focussed on gaming, it can be run on anything from a mid-tier gaming PC upwards. Its open source nature means that anyone with the right skills can build their own headset and adapt it as they see fit.
Setting itself up as the VR playground of the future, The Void team is working on its own RAPTURE head mounted display. This is very different to other VR experiences, because players move around a specially-created physical environment. Players on location in this “virtual entertainment centre” will also be equipped with haptic vests and guns, which offer real-time, physical feedback to events happening inside the game.
Augmented reality (AR) superimposes interactive digital content into the real world. Unlike VR, AR systems are standalone and don’t need to be tethered to a computer. But this evolving technology is much pricier, putting it out of reach of the average consumer for the foreseeable future.
The big names in augmented reality are focussed on creating immersive, highly interactive and collaborative experiences, utilising gesture tracking and other technologies suitable for a broad range of applications.
It remains almost completely shrouded in mystery, but if successful, Magic Leap could open up AR to consumers—potentially transforming the industry. Recently gathering hundreds of millions of dollars in a series C funding, the company is working on an AR device that projects virtual images onto the real world.
Microsoft’s AR platform, HoloLens, is a holographic computer built into a headset. Completely self-contained, it allows the user to see, hear and interact with holograms being projected into their surroundings. High-definition lenses and spatial sound technology will create the immersive experience they promise.
Microsoft will be launching a developer’s edition of the device in early 2016, at a price of around $3,000. The company are already working with industrial partners on developing commercial applications for the device.
Set to launch any day now, a demo of Meta at a recent TED conference certainly went down well with the crowd. It showcased realistic holograms that can be turned, pulled apart and manipulated in mid-air, and the ability to collaborate with another user. While the demo involved use of a headset tethered to a computer monitor, the company say the computer will no longer be needed by next year.
Using an Android-based platform, the Atheer AiR system looks set to provide a rich AR experience. The headset is fitted with a 3D camera for gesture interaction, dual RGB cameras, stereo 3D displays with a wide field of view, microphone and suite of sensors.
The company sells a cloud-based software suite alongside the headset for building AR programs. While the first packs are shipping out in 2016, they’ll set you back a whopping $3,950.
Designed for the construction industry, the Daqri Smart Helmet AR system uses an Intel computer and visor for projecting information in front of the user’s vision. The Daqri Smart Helmet is also fitted with a 360-degree video to allow the wearer to scan his or her surroundings. It’s already being piloted with over 100 industrial partners.
Step-by-step work instructions, thermal vision readouts, live telecommunication with colleagues and data visualisations can be displayed to the wearer with the aim of creating a “safer, more productive, work environment”.
As well as these immersive, interactive headset AR systems, there are a number of “smart glasses” in development that offer a more straightforward interface by way of heads-up displays, including LAFORGE Optical, Vuzix, Epson’s Moverio BT-200, K-Glass and the “world’s first augmented reality headphones,” ORA-X.
These approaches perhaps aren’t as sophisticated as the immersive, interactive holograms proposed by HoloLens and Magic Leap, but they’re accessible and potentially useful for both leisure and commerce.
THE FUTURE OF MOBILE MIXED REALITY
Mixed reality—merging of the best aspects of the real, virtual and augmented worlds—is the future. It’s feasible that we’ll have the opportunity to bounce between VR and AR experiences. And users will want the ability to do that packaged up into one, affordable product.
Take one look at mobile VR and the most accessible device—the Google Cardboard—uses a normal smartphone and can be purchased for as little as $10. Even other options such as the Samsung Gear VR and Fibrum have much more affordable price tags and offer the convenience of utilising the user’s own smartphone.
Demand from consumers is likely to see the accessibility of mobile devices merging the real world with the holographic interaction of AR and the complete immersion of VR.
Here at PAULEY, we’ve re imagined the smartphone, equipping it with cameras and sensors to scan the user’s surroundings and detect gestures. We recommend Smartphone manufacturers offer the ability to provide VR and AR experiences with online content and live streaming – resulting in a single mixed reality device.