For many years tech companies have heralded the coming of virtual reality and augmented reality, but sadly the results have fallen somewhat short. However at last I believe the wave of VR, AR and MR is becoming a Tsunami and is on the brink of changing everything. Here is a quick guide on what VR, AR and MR actually are:
The image above shows a user of HTC Vive creating a 3d sculpture using Tilt Brush by Google. HTC Vive uses sensors in the room and hand controls to track a users movement. The result are beautiful 3D images which can be viewed through the VR headset.
Art is just one application of VR. There are many more, from total immersive gaming through to watching 360o films which put you in the middle of the action. However VR is not just about entertainment, it can be used in business too, from the tried and tested training of pilots in flight simulators to enabling surgeons to learn and experience virtually about new surgical techniques. The applications of VR are many and wide, I've even discussed how VR could be used in psychotherapy.
If you want to dip your toes into Virtual Reality, I'd suggest Google Cardboard. All you need is Android or iPhone and you can either make your own headset from cardboard or buy a nice plastic one for £10. The experience is rather cool, though limited in interaction vs more expensive systems such as HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. A good step between would be the Samsung Gear VR which does require a Samsung phone, but its worth investing in, if you already have a Samsung phone.
Check out Tilt Brush VR app video: Tilt Brush
AR has been round a long time and has been used by app developers like us to create rich app experiences for users. We've built apps to allow users to see properties for sale around them, find their parked car and even see the dark history of london as they wander its streets. Google even built a product focussed totally on an AR experience, Google Glass. Alas it failed to capture the user imagination but has opened up the world to the possibility of much richer AR experience in the form of Mixed Reality, which I'll deal with later in this article.
Beyond the large number of AR mobile phone apps, there are some big players making a move into the AR space. Microsoft have now released a developer version of Hololens. They look like a person in ski goggles, which enables them to see 3d images projected onto a real world view.
Check out Microsoft Hololens: Microsoft Hololens
Augmented reality is rather cool, but to the user it still looks like images overlaid onto the real world, even if they are 3d. Imagine being able to make those images react like solid real world objects. The image below of a view through Magic Leap, shows this rather well.
At first the image above doesn't look that impressive, it shows a user of magic leap headset looking at 3d rendered moving image of a robot under a real table. Couldn't I do that with AR?
Look again. Notice that the robot image isn't just overlaid onto the real image of the table, it appears actually under the table and is partly obscured by the table leg. Essentially Magic Leap enables virtual objects to be placed into a real world space as if it's actually a real, hence the term Mixed Reality.
Mixed reality is a game changer, as it makes it possible to integrate the virtual with the real, creating these near real experiences for users. Imagine video conferencing using Magic Leap, the ability to have virtual people appear as real sitting next to you around a meeting room table. Technology such as Magic Leap could absolutely revolutionise our daily lives. Why go to the office, when you can work just as affectively with your colleagues from home, for example.
At the moment, Magic Leap is the only company which is close to offering mixed reality and they haven't even disclosed what the headset would look like. However announcements from this rather secretive company, suggests that developer kits for Magic Leap could be out at some point this year.
To learn more check out this link to a Forbes interview with the company founders from the last few days: Forbes Magic Leap interview