VR technology is being produced at a record pace, and the war to reach full body immersion has now begun.
The VR Immersion War Has Begun: Who Will Win?
You’re plugged into virtual reality (VR) and have joined a group of volunteers in the Philippines searching for earthquake survivors. You hear a faint voice below and begin to dig through the rubble. Suddenly, the screen goes black. You realize you tripped over your headset cord, unplugging it from the computer. You fumble around in the darkness to reattach the wires, but your experience is ruined. Your immersion has been broken.
Now, imagine joining that same group of volunteers wearing a fully-immersive haptic body suit paired with gloves, and now your headset is wireless. The group is made up of five people from around the world. Each person is in a different physical location, but virtually, can work as one unit. Your voice translation system helps you understand everyone, but you’re encouraged to limit its usage. You work together to move several large boulders, following the voice. You reach the boy. He is wounded, but he’s going to be OK.
You are alerted to move on to the next phase of your training, Medical Attention 101.
This seems like science fiction, but the reality is, this scenario isn’t that far-fetched at all. VR technology is being produced at a record pace, and the war to reach full body immersion has now begun.
What Does This Mean for the Enterprise Sector?
VR is just starting to hit the gaming world, but has been around for decades in the enterprise space. The military, automotive, and medical fields are well-accustomed to implementing this technology in training simulations. Recently, I had the opportunity to work with DTE Energy in Detroit on a high-consequence training VR experience called “Working at Heights.” Through the simulations, the technicians train in real-world situations, without exposing them to the dangers of the field.
The experience was launched on the HTC Vive, which allows for room scale interaction. This greatly increases immersion for a user, and dramatically increases retention because of the ability to use the entire space.
Since the Working at Heights program kicked off in 2016, we’ve already seen an upswing from the hardware manufactures like HTC, Oculus, and Google. These advances will allow for more immersion and will significantly improve training.
The Oculus Rift platform released their new Touch controllers recently. The ergonomic and intuitive nature of these tools makes it seamless for an activity like sign language to be taught around the globe. The improvements in Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) and computing power have opened the doors to more social interaction in this arena.
For instance, Doghead Simulations offers a product called “Rumii,” which makes global collaboration a reality. A group of automotive engineers can put on a headset and review real-time 3D models in collaboration with their counterparts in another country. They even have a feature that makes agile sprint planning in Jira and Confluence a snap.
“This seems like science fiction, but the reality is, this scenario isn’t that far-fetched at all. VR technology is being produced at a record pace, and the war to reach full body immersion has now begun.”
The HTC Vive platform released small, lightweight hockey puck-like objects called “Vive Trackers” that turn any object into a controller. A group of firefighters can now feel what it’s like to pick up a fire hose and virtually put out a flaming house.
The more innovation we see in the enterprise sector, the more immersive the experience becomes. We increase the reality and intensity of the situation, giving us better results for information retention. In turn, we will save millions of dollars through virtual simulators. According to Darin Bolthouse of Lockheed Martin, “We’re saving in the range of $10 to $15 million a year by using it. That’s a conservative estimate.”
For example, the days of paying actors to simulate criminals for policemen could soon be numbered due to technological advances. Similarly, NASA has been using VR for years to train astronauts facing extreme psychological pressure while in space.
The Future: What We Can Expect
It seems like every few months, a hardware manufacturer is making a new breakthrough in VR. The HTC Vive team recently showed us that with the addition of a TPCAST adapter on a headset, we no longer need the snake pit of wires that tether us to our computers. This breakthrough was thought to be at least five years out.
Things are changing fast, and you should be excited because the future is becoming a reality.
The outlook of VR is yet to be defined, but there are certain things we can expect. AxonVR is working on a full body immersive suit that gives users feedback very similar to the real world. Not only would we be able to experience haptic feedback, but also sensations like hot and cold will be very possible because of their new technology. During a recent site visit at AxonVR’s headquarters, I felt the sensation of a spider waking across my skin and the weight of a tiny doe asleep in the palm of my hand. Sensations like these are a must in high-consequence training for full immersion.
Valve hinted that “House Scale VR” would be available “in the near future.” This would give us the ability to map any CGI atmosphere directly to a real-world structure, like a warehouse or multistoried building. An architect could actually do a walkthrough of their final creation before the foundation has even been laid.
“Things are changing fast, and you should be excited because the future is becoming a reality.”
We can essentially expect the unexpected when it comes to the future of VR.
How Does this Impact You?
The only way true immersion can be achieved is if all hardware developers work together to make this happen. There can be no gates or walled gardens – we need an open-source community to stand up and collaborate. The winner in the war of immersion will be you, as the ecstatic gamer, student in the classroom, or first responder volunteer.
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