I admit it. I’m crazy excited about virtual reality and mixed reality. It’s the evolution of the day dreams I’ve had since I was a kid reading Tom Swift books. To see that we are on the path to all this becoming actual reality in my lifetime is like all my sci fi books coming to life all at once.
Terms to Remember:
360-Degree Video, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality
360-degree video: In the most basic terms, this is live video that is shot with cameras that have lenses pointing in all directions. To get the idea, imagine that you are watching a movie but you can look all around the scene: right, left, above, below, and even behind you. Most often you are a viewer, not a participant. Google Cardboard is an inexpensive tool that let’s you view 360-degree videos with a smart phone.
Virtual reality: Abbreviated to VR, this is most often a fully simulated experience controlling 100% of the viewer’s sight and hearing. The simplest comparison is to imagine you are dropped into a video game and can participate as one of the characters, actively interacting with the things you see and hear. Usually this experience takes some sort of head mounted screen (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung GearVR) and other gadgets like cameras or gloves to make you feel immersed in the experience.
Mixed reality: Also called augmented reality, MR combines aspects of your real word with additional graphics or information. If you’ve seen movies where the character sees the real world through a screen that provides additional data (Iron Man, Terminator), that’s what we’re talking about. The big difference here is that MR has an awareness of where you are, either through a camera, GPS, or other sensor technology. Mixed reality can happen with a smart phone, a more advanced system like Microsoft Hololens, or not-quite-real technology that recognizes you when you walk in the room.
VR and MR are still very new.
The thing I have to keep in mind though is VR and MR are very young, still infants really. You may have seen a news bite or Time magazine cover about Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or even the Samsung GearVR, and their geekiness shows how immature they are, but believe me, that is just the beginning. Sitting at a desk with an awkward head mounted display (HMD) isn’t the endpoint. To get an idea of where we are going, take a look at this video from Microsoft released way back 2010. No crazy headgear, but amazing ways that mixed reality could make a difference in our world.
Microsoft was thinking this would be the world in 2019, but I’d be surprised to see us get there. There are a lot of hurdles to leap over still. In fact, we don’t even know yet what hurdles we NEED to leap over. The things that add or subtract from the experience haven’t been worked out yet. It’s like the early days of internet connected mobile phones: nobody knew at the time how they would eventually entwine with our lives.
Did I mention Virtual Reality is still new?
The truth is, if you aren’t aware of the VR scene yet, don’t feel like you are missing out. Some surveys (like this one by Horizon Media) say only 33% of people have heard of the new VR devices. I do suggest you start keeping an eye on what’s coming, because VR and MR have popped up in almost every industry. Gaming, entertainment, HR training, law enforcement, health care, journalism and beyond are all experimenting with VR and MR immersive experiences. Think about it. If you can focus a person’s sight, hearing, and touch on a single topic for a time, you have a much better chance of getting your message across. Imagine what the political ads will be like! Actually, don’t do that. It’s terrifying.
If you do start watching for VR, you’ll see a full spectrum of discussion in the news, everything from “Virtual reality is going to take over everything today!” to the opposite end with “Virtual reality is a trend that doesn’t fit human reality.” Lots of people (like me) will be happy to go on the record predicting the future of this new technology. Looking back, there are examples of the same type of statements for just about every technology. Some people said cars wouldn’t catch on. Others said the Edsel was the car of the future. In our media connected world, we get to hear all the supporters and detractors and every statement gets amplified as truth and fact. The actual reality is somewhere in the middle.
Time will tell what we are in for, but until then, here’s another vision of what the future may hold. It’s a bit more extreme, and some say a little creepy, but I’ve already put in my application to get my mixed reality contacts.