For the technophiles among us – Oculus Rift is a revolution that will buzz gaming aficionados by mid next year. And we all wait eagerly. It’s all too easy to dismiss it as a pure gaming gimmick but if one looks a little deeper, a lot more lies beneath and that will rattle many things we took for granted to the core.
I am a frequent traveller and as to many of us, it’s a chore. Airplanes have long lost their sparkle for me. I dread the next long haul trip and much of it is a pain. Sometimes you do it all for the one meeting that you must attend to. Plus it costs a lot of money.
Just imagining a full immersion headset that gives you a virtual reality setting that looks much like a conference room. The other participants are represented by their avatars and you are sitting on a table. Documents are hovering in front of everyone and edits are made in real time. Everyone has perfect sight on everything and if you turn your head to the side, you will see the person on your side.
It’s as real as it can be except that you cannot touch the other participants. Besides, everyone will look perfect even if some sit at the table in their undies and meetings can be convened on very short notice as there is no travel involved.
All you need is an Oculus Rift headset, lots of bandwidth and specialized software that makes this whole virtual reality magic work for you. Money saved, time saved and a lot of travellers pain saved as well.
But business travellers are many airlines prime business today. Their business models only work because of the high paying, high frequency traveller. Just imagine that 30% of all trips become unnecessary because of Virtual Reality meetings. Would that have an impact on airlines business models? Would that have an impact on travel infrastructure and airplane building?
But let’s go further. Education today is one (or more) teacher in the front of a room (well today that’s less strict as I have seen at the school of my older boy) and scholars watching stuff.
Imagine that you wear a headset and participate at the class virtually. You would still be sitting there, you would always have perfect sight and notes would be taken as you go automatically. It could be watch only or life participation and the best is that it does not even need to be interaction between two or more persons like in the VR meeting as described above.
Classes could be totally virtual, with a SIRI on steroids doing the teaching part. But this teacher would at any moment be here only for you – no one to share attention with. Plus it would be immersion into whatever would be taught at a level unimaginable so far. Live video feed and playful exercises and a lot of other interactive stuff creative heads will come up with will enliven the experience.
And it’s going to be crazy. Just watch the extreme proliferation of children educative videos, games and things to do on the internet today. Imagine this in a full immersion environment. Our kids are going to learn and they are going to have fun at the same time. Plus there will be a virtual, interactive teacher who never gets tired, angry or needs a vacation.
You think they will not adopt it? Look how quick kids today adopted the iPad for work and fun. My kids grow up in a world where tablet computers are ubiquitous. I grew up in a world where computers were big like houses, clunky to look at and a mystery to deal with. No one really except and initiated few imagined what those monsters could do for them.
Full immersion is just going to be another step.
But it does not stop with business meetings or education. Travel, leisure, gaming, even remote controlling gear from a safe distance will all be done in full immersion. As sad as it sounds but soon our soldiers will wear full immersion kits in some concrete block in order to let drones fight wars from a safe distance.
And headsets like Oculus Rift are just the beginning. The designer team NAU currently works on a concept study called the Cocoon where a person enters a sphere through a hatch and is surrounded by a 360 degree round screen simulating any situation you imagine. Wanna do yoga at the Waikiki beach? Or get a thrill while walking the rim of Kilauhea during an eruption. Wanna walk the surface of the moon or Mars or dive into the Great barrier riff?
You could sleep in it and get woken by the Sydney Symphonic Orchestra while your bed stands on the stage of the Sydney opera house. You could sleep on a boat in the Caribbean – all from your home. Advanced versions would have smell simulators, create an artificial breeze and simulate sunlight so you need your shades. It could be almost as real as then famous holodeck in starship enterprise.
But let’s go beyond pleasure. You can have a real business meeting with Carlos from Argentina, Jim from Texas and Sun Hee from Singapore and it would be to you as if you are all in the same room. And it’s going to be as real as meeting them in person.
The travel industry is going to hate the new Virtual Reality world as many trips that are done today will be superfluous.
Is that going to do it? Will people readily trade in the real thing for the Virtual Reality environment? Judging by the relatively low success of Video Conferencing, we should not be encouraged.
But this thing is different. It’s not really enticing if one must prepare calls long in advance just in order to sit alone in a room looking at a grainy screen and listening to bad audio while trying to make sense of what is being said. Interactivity with those systems always sucked.
But those new things like Occolus Rift or better are going to be very high fidelity, very high definition and using them will be quick and easy. Sitting in a sphere, pulling in participants will be as easy as pointing with a finger on an image and the machine will do the rest.
There is going to be virtual assistance at every step and voice command will be a breeze.
Shopping, sports, fun, business, education, research, work, communication and countless other things are going to change to the core with the advent of real great Virtual reality gear. This will also make us real couch potatoes but worry not – I can already see the new fitness world where your trainer is always here, never tires, never gets angry and always looks like Candice Swanepoel – or Leonardo DiCaprio if this is what gets you pumping.