Virtual and augmented reality represents an important growing market in the huge tech economy. Lots of devices are being developed offering the public completely different interaction with machines compared to the ones it is used to.
First of all we have to make a distinction between virtual reality and augmented reality. The first one refers to systems where you only interact with a virtual world, whereas the second one refers to applications developed to add virtual elements on the real world. Because of this, they can be used to cover a variety of goals and applications.
When looking at this devices, lots of people usually think about recreational gadgets mainly developed for videogame purposes. In fact, they allow video gamers to enjoy games with a full immersion experience, which is definitely a result never reached with previous technologies. However, although lots of them are effectively developed to entertain people, their goal is not only limited to fun. There are tons of sectors in the market that can benefit from these devices.
Let’s take for example the CAVE2. Its huge dimensions allow more than one users to be involved in this 3D experience, leading to the possibility of having an entire group of people seeing and discussing the content proposed on the 72 screens of the machine. Even though we could have a similar experience by giving each person an HTC Vive, the fact the people is just wearing simple 3D glasses allows persons to have interactions and communication as they usually do in normal life. For example, let’s imagine an equipe of doctors studying 3D patients images taken by using X-Rays. They will be able to discuss, takes notes and working with other devices without problems. In this sense, CAVE2 will give good opportunities to the team to analyze images in a better and new way without limiting the common interaction among its members.
Of course CAVE2 cannot be considered a portable devices at all. Its big size it’s definitely one of its biggest advantages, but it is definitely a limit when talking about portability and cost. Especially because of the latter, this product is not likely to be a mass product. However lots of companies have already developed products to fill this area of the market. In particular, Google is trying to reach the public with its really cheap Cardboard. The creation is of this product has been possible thanks to the huge number of Android smartphones. Cardboards isn’t provided of electronic chips. Instead it is basically a cheap pair of lenses that can be used to transform a mobile phone into a virtual reality platform. Of course not all that glitters is gold: Cardboard has its disadvantages too. It represents a really good opportunity to create interest in the topic among people but the lack of a remote control and the need of using hands to take the device near to the eyes will definitely limit the concept of the product itself. However we should mention that the market offers a big number of improved Cardboard-like devices that basically solve this problem. Just to mention a name, VR Box is one of these alternatives to the Google product. Its inexpensive but complete package will extend the purpose of this glasses. Whereas Cardboard can be mainly used to enjoy short 3D and 360° videos, VR Box can also be used to play simple interactive games. However the quality of the lenses will hardly allow a user to see an entire 3D film due to blurry images. On the other side, it could happen that the the poor DPI resolution of the phone screen allows the user to see pixels grid. This is both true for Cardboard and its alternative, given the fact that they are based on the same technology. In any case, Google has definitely found a way to increase interest in its product, and any Cardboard-like devices wouldn’t have been created without all the work and the efforts Google had put into this technology: you can experience virtual reality almost for free, amazing!
The portability of smartphones makes them a good tools for augmented reality applications. Lots of free apps are intended to entertain the public with funny effects. This is the case of Quiver and Pokemon Go, apps that every child will certainly love. It is not so difficult however to imagine other possible uses of this technology. Computer vision allows smartphones to recognize objects and places. For example this will give the possibility of displaying real time information of the environment around us. Phone screens can still be a limit to this technologies. HoloLens represents a good improvement in this sense. Being glasses, they leave the users more freedom to move, meaning that the user will have the possibility to interact with the surrounding environment. HoloLens could be used to display notifications while the user is handling another task, or to give him real-time suggestions about that particular task. However, aiming at being a big innovation in augmented reality, HoloLens is intended for high demanding customers, and will cost a lot more than a simple Cardboard. On the other side, virtual reality market has its premium devices too. A good example is the HTC Vive. It is provided of two wireless controllers and it can count on the computational power of a real PC, a big step from what a smartphone can do. This essentially make it an ideal choice for fantastic video games. They provide an intuitive user-friendly experience and a complete immersive experience. Users really focus on the game without external distractions. Moreover, controllers and sensors can track user movements giving him a completely new way of interacting with a machine. The interaction will be more familiar to the user since it is based on the same kind of interaction a person would have with the real world: there will be no more need to learn tons of buttons combinations. In addition, there’s the choice of simulating some sports and real world games in a more realistic way. But the uses of this device are not limited to games. Google Earth allows you travel all around the world. Tilt Brush by Google allows artists to draw in a 3-dimensional world. Prototypes, models and sketches of a new manufactory product can be shown in 3D. This will probably redefine the way designers work providing them a new powerful instrument.
In conclusion, when choosing among the wide panoramas of virtual and augmented reality devices, one has to take into consideration not only the technical specification of the product but also the practical aspect of using this devices and the kind of interactions the user can have with them. Moreover developers have also to take into account the kind of public they are intended to address their product to. Professional users will definitely choose more expensive solutions while the cheapest ones are likely to be deployed as mass product very soon. Some devices are mostly intended to sophisticated applications and some other can be used to provide simple functionalities and entertainment. Of course, the market is still relatively new. It is likely that the majority of applications and ideas have not bee developed yet: only time will tell!