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Virtual, Mixed, and Augmented Reality: The Future is Virtually Here

Attending the recent Mavric conference gave us an insight into virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) in their many guises – from Ghostbusting to real-life applications in construction, surgery, education, training, and athletic performance. The event took place in the Cork city innovation hub, Republic of Work, on the 7th of March.

The enthusiastic audience was treated to some impressive speakers who are creating the future in this rapidly changing technological arena.

Mavric founder, Derek Gallagher, kicked off the morning proceedings and introduced the world’s leading VR/AR expert Robert ‘Scobleizer’ Scoble. Scoble is a blogger and tech evangelist who has held significant roles with Microsoft, Fast Company, Rackspace, and more recently as the Entrepreneur in Residence with Upload VR. He is one of the most connected people in Silicon Valley with direct access to leaders of companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, and Tesla. The fact that Apple launched Siri from his house is an indication of his privileged perspective on the tech industry.

Speakers at the Mavric conference explored applications of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality

The Mavric conference explored applications of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality

Transitioning VR/AR to Mainstream Usage

Scoble delivered an eye-opening keynote talk discussing current AR/VR/MR trends, his predictions for future developments, and how these technologies will change our lives. He was impressed to find that roughly a quarter of the audience had worn a HoloLens headset before the event (he said that at previous events only about 1% of audience members had directly experienced the technology).

He then explored the fun side of the technology, where people can remotely enjoy activities such as skiing or even shooting from the comfort of their living rooms. Scoble stated that while the tech is improving all the time, the hardware is still ‘too dorky’ and expensive for most people. Nonetheless, he is confident that over the coming one to four years this will change, and ‘even kids in Mumbai’ will have easy access to VR/AR technologies.

VR/AR in Education

From there the conversation moved to education and how, in Scoble’s opinion, children in the future ‘will need to learn faster to outrun the forces of automation’. For example, school children will be able to experience simulations or recreations of certain events, not just read about them in a textbook. During the Q&A this was put in context as the progression of teaching and learning technologies from blackboards, to whiteboards, projectors, and now interactive whiteboards and iPads. A future with headsets in the classroom is not too far away.

Later, David Whelan from Immersive VR Education, a spinout from the TSSG research institute, told his entrepreneurial story and showcased his flagship product, Apollo 11 VR. He described how, through the Engage educational system, ‘educators will be furnished with the tools they need to create their own lesson plans and immersive experiences, transforming how educational content is delivered to their students’.

Advances in AR More Important Than VR

While there are many fun use cases of VR/AR, leading products such as HoloLens, and the DAQRI Smart Helmet are also designed to solve business problems. Major tech brands such as Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, Huawei, HTC, and Mercedes are developing the next generation of products.

To demonstrate the scale of the investment, Scoble cited Apple’s team of hundreds of engineers working to develop applications of VR/AR technologies, along with over 1000 engineers working on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Israel. Several years ago, at Apple, Steve Jobs and Tim Cook discussed how advances in AR are more important than in VR, at least from a commercial perspective. Cook believes that AR has the potential for wider and more useful commercial applications than VR. AR enables people to collaborate more effectively in the real world than VR, which provides an immersive experience more applicable to gamers, students, and thrill seekers.

Business Use Cases

Although it’s probably fair to say that they are only scratching the surface, the use case examples shown at Mavric illustrate how rapidly the world, and all our lives will change.

A particularly interesting insight came from the Irish Defense Forces. Pat O’Connor described the organisation’s development of a VR experience to showcase what they do, without having to deploy an actual army tank. The Defence Forces enlisted the assistance of Tyndall National Institute and in just three weeks developed the immersive experience, which was rolled out at the National Ploughing Championships. They are now considering developing more VR experiences to complement their current training programmes for new recruits.

At the conference, we were also given the opportunity to test out the various products, experience what they can do, and get a glimpse of how mainstream adoption will change peoples’ lives. During the day we walked through a hologram of the human anatomy, spun planets with our fingers, and shot a tank gun in the Glen of Imaal while under attack.

There were also engaging panel discussions focused on start-up stories, and the potential of Ireland to lead Europe into the VR/AR age. Participants discussed the key factors of funding, talent, and ecosystem. The acquisition of a Cork company, InfiniLED, by Oculus was highlighted as a sign of a viable ecosystem that can be further developed and nurtured.

The Future’s Bright

At the end of the enthralling day, the speakers stayed around to add further insights to their inspiring talks. Thanks to the sponsors, speakers, and participants in the Mavric conference, there’s every chance this event, and others like it, will motivate people to enter the industry, and help make Ireland the European capital of VR/AR.

Notwithstanding the obvious privacy and surveillance challenges to come, there is no doubt that the future is exciting for businesses and consumers. VR, AR, and MR will change the way people communicate, interact, consume content, and ultimately create a new reality.

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