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The age of virtual reality has finally arrived

What took so long?

The earliest attempts to create VR were in the first half of the nineteenth century with panoramic, 360-degree mural paintings and stereoscopic viewers, introduced in 1838 . OWDT has been among the very first website design companies in the country to use 360-degree videos.

Following a series of progressive experimental advancements throughout the twentieth century, the term ‘virtual reality‘ was introduced in the late 1980s. By the 1990s, many believed that VR was soon going to be available for everyone. That hope inspired at least a dozen science fiction movies before the turn of the century. –Remember “The Matrix” and “The Lawnmower Man?” At the time, many envisioned a near-future technology in which special headsets would transmit computer-generated images directly into our eyes, eliminating the need for screens, while at the same time tracking our movements.

But the technology then was much too primitive for that to materialize. The most serious limitations were slow processing speed between head movements and computer images plus low- resolution computer graphics that made the experience disorienting and unconvincing. Twenty years later, there have been major advances in overcoming those and other limitations, paving the way for the first generation of immersive sight and sound VR products.

The first generation of commercially viable VR products

Oculus Rift and HTC Vive went on the market this spring–the former getting the most publicity, in part because it offers more games. A third gaming option, PlayStation VR, will be launched in October. Price will inevitably decline when the novelty wears off. Another reason to delay purchase is the expected rapid pace of future tech improvements for these products.

Reviews indicate that while both offer convincing total immersion experiences, HTC Vive is the better of the two in that regard. On the other hand, the HTC Vive headset is bulkier and less comfortable to wear. Another advantage for Rift–it already gives users 360- degree movies through Facebook, Vimeo, and Twitch. Of course, you’ll need a powerful, expensive PC to make either of them work.

Potential users should be aware that the total immersion experience these products provide is disorienting enough to make some people feel sick. Users need to slowly build tolerance to be able to use these devices for more than a few minutes.

Wireless VR for portable devices

Receiving less attention is a much cheaper category of VR products designed for portable wireless devices. Two primary examples are Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard, both of which plug into your phone to provide convenient, wireless, but markedly lower quality VR. In fact, the bulk of VR product purchases this year are in this less glamorous category.

YouTube introduced 360-degree videos in 2015, now available on YouTube and Facebook, that integrate with this wireless VR. OWDT has been among the very first website design companies in the country and the only one in Texas to use 360-degree videos. We have also managed to utilize 360 videos in connection with the gyroscope of mobile devices free of exclusive aps. A function that giant tech companies like Youtube and Facebook are yet to develop. Click here to experience one of our examples.

Game Advanced Technology

As we move on in this series, I’ll explore the possibilities of multi-sensory VR, applications in business, education, healthcare delivery, and, of course, entertainment.

It all began in 2014 with the introduction of Google’s Cardboard

The rush to market smartphone VR

The VR tech community is impatient to get the word out about virtual reality’s rapidly emerging advancements. As many markets approach smartphone saturation, mobile device industry giants like Samsung and Apple are banking on mobile VR to generate a new wave of product innovation and sales. –It all began in 2014 with the introduction of Google’s Cardboard, selling a half million units within six months.

Newer smartphones can easily be turned into acceptable virtual reality devices. This is made possible by their good quality resolution, processing power, and built-in head-tracking technology, making it possible to view movies and simple VR games on inexpensive headsets that strap onto your face. The greatest advantage for mobile device VR products is that they cost much less than recent high-end independent units like Oculus Rift.

High-end VR product manufacturers have collaborated with smartphone companies to introduce high-profile products like Samsung Gear VR, a ‘light’ version of Oculus Rift that uses a Samsung Galaxy smartphone as its processor and display. “You just slot in your phone into the headset with an accompanying handset, and you’re in business.” There are many similar products.

As I commented, the visual quality of mobile VR is still grainy. Computer engineers also need to improve latency/content streaming. Fortunately, emerging advancements will begin to resolve those challenges.

Virtual Reality Advancements

Emerging advancements

  • The next generation of smartphones is going to be much more powerful, with screen resolution at 4K or better.
  • ARM Holdings, designer for most of the world’s mobile processors, recently announced the Cortex-A73, a new type of chip in tandem with a new graphics engine, both designed with VR applications in mind.
  • These breakthroughs will significantly improve performance while saving energy, a necessity for preventing rapid battery depletion.
  • All the major chipmakers will take ARM’s design and integrate them into future flagship smartphones like the Galaxy S8 and perhaps the iPhone 7S scheduled for launch, respectively, in 2017 and later this year.
  • Even if smartphone sales don’t expand after introduction of this new mobile VR tech, over half of all ARM chips are used in TVs, cars (“Infotainment” apps) and Internet of Things products, so they’re not at all worried about demand.

Beyond smartphones

Who knows where all this will lead us? Will augmented VR create a smartphone renaissance or make them obsolete? — I’ll take a look at speculation about VR breakthroughs expected in the more distant future.

How can VR possibly be a full, rich experience in an unhealthy body?

Breakthroughs in VR and Augmented Reality (AR) have been made possible by continued advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI). —Check out our previous articles on AI.

VR’s physical challenges

VR environments are already sight and sound immersive (perhaps eventually for other senses, as well). This has created vision problems for some, including eyestrain, as well as disorientation, motion sickness and nausea. Consequently, frequent breaks are recommended along with avoiding driving, etc., until one fully recovers from a VR experience. –Added to this is the ‘elephant in the room’–the fact that so many of us are already spending far too much time in front of screens. How can VR possibly be a full, rich experience in an unhealthy body?

Social isolation

People wearing VR headsets look ridiculous because they’re literally ‘out of it.’ Not only are they oblivious to the real world, but they’re also socially isolated and absurdly helpless looking.

In a screen-besieged world, we’re already struggling to stay focused on and get the attention of family and friends we’re physically with. Among the strongest correlates of health is having a strong social support network.

Recent research underscores that real-time physical contact with others, even so-called low-value interactions, measurably improve overall mental and physical well-being. By contrast, online contact is less salutogenic, and even harmful when excessive (as with people who spend too much time on FB). People who become addicted to VR will risk a dangerous level of social isolation.

Isolation- VR Headsets

Potential neurological deficits

Along with a potential for social isolation and addiction, what of the long-term effects of VR on the brain? The CEO of Google affiliate, Magic Leap, expressed his concern last year that 3D headsets can cause temporary and permanent neurologic deficits.

“Our philosophy as a company and my personal view is to ‘leave no footprints’ in the brain. The brain is very neuroplastic – and there is no doubt that near-eye stereoscopic 3D systems have the potential to cause neurologic change.”

If standard screen video games are already being used by terrorist groups to train recruits, what will be the effect when completely immersive violent games make participants feel they are actually murdering others in simulated attacks? The same can be said for VR pornography. –How will such things change how we interact in real life and function as a society?

As more senses (touch, smell, and taste) are added to the VR experience, we face the still more daunting prospect of navigating an entirely new level of human consciousness and experience.

Next, I’ll focus on VR’s upside: its educational, medical and ‘infotainment’ applications, including sports, movies and, of course, video games. I’ll discuss speculation on what scientists envision the far future of VR.

Within the next 5-10 years we’ll be able to use VR to enjoy first-row seats at sports events

Multi-Sensory engagement

To date, VR sensory enhancement has been defined by continually improving sight and sound engagement. While companies are already researching ways to create VR touch, scent, and taste, it will take many years, perhaps decades, before those additional sensory technologies are ready for practical application.

I described a list of genuine concerns about the downside of VR. In this installment, I want to contrast that with the amazing improvements that VR promises for many areas of life.

The exciting potentialWith new and emerging VR tech as a platform, forecasters believe that within the next five to ten years we’ll be able to use VR headsets to enjoy first-row seats at professional sports events, take classes from world-renowned educators, and consult with doctors.

  • Immersive educational environments for young students

VR experiences that take children on virtual field trips to exotic world locations and historical settings have already been released or soon will be–, e.g., a British Museum visit to the Bronze Age; an astronaut’s view of the Apollo 11 moon landing; and Google’s Expeditions series, the first  of which will take students on a scuba dive off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Professional Training–Similar breakthroughs will help neurosurgeons-in-training explore realistic virtual brains before operating on patients. They will also give architects an immersive, room-by-room experience of different building designs. The applications are limitless…

  • Emotional therapy and interpersonal awareness

Virtual reality has already proved useful in treating phobias and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) without the potential risks posted in real world environments. For example, when people with a phobia of spiders are progressively exposed to them over time, they become desensitized to the imagined threat. The same dynamic, if applied correctly, applies to VR supported tech in overcoming traumatic events.

Overlapping ‘infotainment’ and therapy are VR documentaries that put a human face on relief efforts for people living struggling through events like civil wars and environmental disasters. VR-enhanced experiences of the benefits of contributing to on-ground support efforts are likely to deepen a sense of empathy among viewers.

  • Virtual presence with family and work colleagues

VR-enhanced family visits will take us a quantum leap beyond Skype. In the future, you’ll be able to wear VR glasses not only to feel as if you’re with loved ones but also to project your presence into the group. Plus, recordings of the same events would allow you to experience them again for years into the future.

On the business side, this technology will also make virtual offices possible, i.e., office environments in which you can interact with your colleagues at work from home. …Perhaps this raises red flags for you as it does for me. 

  • Entertainment

Immersive Gaming and Sports

VR gaming is already a sensation and will continue to be the primary driver of VR growth. Gamers are thrilled by their newfound ability to immerse themselves in a wide range of exciting, exotic environments.

If you’re not a gamer, anyone who enjoys sports is a likely future VR convert. Last October, an NBA Golden State Warriors champion game was streamed by NextVR. The same advances are already occurring in boxing. Other sports will surely follow.

Films

VR will provide film viewers options for seeing a scene unfold from different angles, witness the varied experiences of different characters and choose different plot developments. All this promises to coalesce to further deepen a person’s sense of empathy.

Dust Storm advancements in technology

In my next and final installment in this series, I’ll discuss what futurologists have to say about the long-term potential of VR to construct an entirely new level of reality.

Our species has long been dedicated to overcoming the limitations of physicality

To sum it all up–video and audio VR has finally arrived. This is an exhilarating, revolutionary development with applications ranging from education to ‘infotainment.’ Significant challenges remain, however, including potentially damaging neurological effects on users.

Conjecture about the far future of VR is similar to things futurists said over 20 years ago when this technology first caught the public imagination. However, the probable tech framework for future developments has evolved.

Speculation from
futurologists about VR’s far future

While VR is a quantum leap into new realms, our species has long been dedicated to overcoming the limitations of physicality–beginning with radio, telephone, and now 2D internet device communications. That said, are we ready for a VR technology that will help us move beyond all physical restrictions, including those we’re born with? If such technology becomes viable, it will inevitably meet with resistance. However, the millennial generation shift towards digitized social lives demonstrates how dramatic the culture can change in a short span of time.

Whether AI can advance to exceed the complex sophistication of the human brain is the subject of heated debate. Luminaries like Elon Musk and Bill Gates have expressed strong concern about the potential downside of AI (e.g., our becoming, at best, ‘AI pets’).

If AI doesn’t relegate us to the scrap heap of evolution, it holds the promise of submerging us in completely new worlds with even greater clarity than waking life. In such VR realms, communication would be telepathic and our minds transportable from place to place. Ultimately, our minds/personalities would be uploadable to a computer-generated simulation that would appear to cheat death.

Could such a transfer really capture a person’s subjective sense of self? Also, how would we experience existence as an eternal being/construct without limitation, even death (save for the possible destruction of a computer housing one’s personal simulation)?

Future of VR advancements

Experiencing a perfected reality through the eyes of a perfected self

Long before such existential challenges emerge, futurologists have speculated that by 2040 you may experience a completely convincing immersive VR in a highly evolved personal avatar that fully engages all your senses. There’s strong evidence that this would have a measurable impact on your sense of self. For example, if your avatar were taller and more athletic than you are, your confidence would go up as well as your willingness to assert control over your virtual environment. If your avatar were especially attractive, you’d be friendlier.

Sociologists have long described the ‘social construction of reality,’ a good part of which is your perception of how others define you. Experiments show that younger people who inhabit elderly avatars are more likely to save money in simulated situations, a behavioral shift that transfers to the real world. –Overall, VR holds impressive potential for behavior modification, especially empathy building and recovery from traumatic experiences.

If interested in knowing more about this subject, Google the following terms–the singularity; programmable matter;  foglets; molecular assemblers; nanotechnology; electronic transcendence, and; infomorph.

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