Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are the Latest Commercialised Products of the Ever-Expanding Technological Boundaries
But are we straying too far from reality?
470526457 – October 2018
Have you ever dreamed of being able to experience things beyond our physical limitations? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to fly? To explore the depths of the oceans and the heights of the tallest mountains without fear of injury or death? For centuries these ideas were believed to remain fictitious, to only be imagined and dreamed about in the confines of our mind, that is, until they became a possibility.
Image: Pixabay. No Attribution Required.
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are a part of the latest step in the direction of technological immersion. Virtual Reality is the interaction with simulated environments through the use of VR equipment and specialised programs. VR technology aims to offer complete immersion in the virtual world in the most accurate way possible. Augmented Reality is slightly different than VR, instead allowing the user to interact with virtual elements while also integrating their surroundings. This means that the technology must be aware of their environment and be able to make use of it accordingly.
In 1968, Ivan Sutherland created one of the first pieces of Virtual Reality headwear technology to be used in simulation programs (Sutherland, 1968). The weight and nature of the apparatus meant that it had to be secured to the ceiling, while still allowing the user to have a degree of free movement. While the virtual spaces were very simple, it laid the foundation for further innovation that would build upon these foundations. The Microsoft HoloLens was a part of the first-generation of Augmented Reality, shipping 10,000 units (Pesce, 2018). The tinted visor allows content to be projected onto it while also allowing the user to view their physical surroundings. Sensors built into the apparatus analyse and map the environment surrounding the user which enables virtual elements to interact with real-life objects (Microsoft).
Augmented Reality Use on Mobile Devices
Snapchat’s AR Face-Tracking Filters
The progression of Smartphone technology has brought about the emergence of Augmented Reality in mobile applications. Applications such as Snapchat and Instagram allow their users to use facial-tracking features that display a filter onto their face, while the mobile app, PokemonGO depicts the animated Pokémon into the mapped environment seen through the camera on the user’s mobile device. This use of Augmented Reality turns the mobile device into a lens that users can look through to a virtual world instead of the complete immersion of Virtual Reality. This is a more appealing avenue of everyday VR and AR use, as the user does not have to completely disconnect from reality while they are using it.
While Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality have been heavily marketed towards the gaming community, AR has recently taken a different approach, with marketing focusing more on everyday use. This complete integration of Augmented Reality into the user’s life is advertised as a simplification of mundane tasks, but can also be perceived as an immense privacy threat. The danger of constant surveillance is a worrying idea today, with privacy at an all-time low due to the increased integration of technology into people’s lives.
The emergence of a new technology naturally entices a plethora of companies who seek to capitalise on the sudden consumer demand. Current industry leaders include;
- Oculus Rift: Owned by Facebook Inc
- HTC Vive: Owned by HTC, Valve
- Sony PlayStation VR: Owned by Sony
- Samsung Gear VR: Owned by Samsung
- Google Glass: Owned by Google
- Magic Leap: Owned by Google, AT&T
- Microsoft HoloLens: Owned by Microsoft
Companies with a more extensive history have had the ability to put more time and money into Research and Development than their younger competitors, giving them a large competitive advantage. VR and AR are new technologies and are still in their early stages of development, meaning that there are many opportunities for companies to gain a competitive advantage. This innovation is exhibited through a company’s ability to create the most lightweight, immersive and accessible technology, whilst retaining cost-effectivity for consumers. This could be seen when Oculus reduced the price of their Oculus Rift in August, 2017 resulting in an increase of 11.2% market share on Steam in September, 2017 (Orland, 2018). Steam is the largest digital game distributor on PC, generating around $4.3 billion USD in games sold in 2017 (not including DLC’s) (Bailey, 2018).
The success of Virtual Reality technology can sometimes rely heavily on its compatibility with existing technology. Data from 2017 showed that the Samsung Gear VR and the Sony PlayStation VR held more than double the market share of the HTC Vive and more than four times the market share of the Oculus Rift (Business Wire, 2017). The dominant market share of both the Samsung Gear VR and the Sony PlayStation VR can be partly accredited to their respective compatibility with Samsung Galaxy Smartphones and Sony’s PlayStation 4. However, exclusive compatibility can limit the use of VR and AR, limiting their target market to only those who own the existing compatible device. This means that the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have more potential to grow, taking over the target market that Sony and Samsung have excluded.
Virtual reality has recently been harnessed in the therapy of phobias (Thayer, 2018) and even as far as in the therapy of PTSD. The realism and accuracy of real-life sensorial functions blurs the line between reality and simulation, resulting in a more effective process of the alleviation of phobias. To be able to explore situations without the real-world risk of injury enables therapists and patients to identify more information about the nature of the fear in question, leading to a more comprehensive understanding. Virtual reality has many uses beyond gaming; including In-Flight Entertainment, Chatrooms, and even in the Adult Film Industry (NSFW). These applications of VR have opened up discourse regarding the social implications of being able to interact with others in a simulated environment without having to leave the house.
While Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality does not intrinsically disadvantage anyone, those who own the technology and the applications associated with it can harness it with questionable motives in mind. Companies have proven in the past that the privacy of their users’ data is not always entirely secure. Facebook suffered a number of data breaches from 2015 to 2018 with the data of 50 million users being harvested by Cambridge Analytica. From the data collected, there was enough information to create psychographic profiles on 30 million of the users affected by the breach (Munro, 2018). Mark Pesce (2018) stated in his lecture that he believes Augmented Reality is a service of data collection, and will be marketed as a solution to the problem of smartphone immersion.
There are also claims that Virtual Reality can have a detrimental effect to those who use it too often. In an experiment where participants had to navigate through a virtual world, Roy Ruddle (1998) found that all of his participants reported side effects, including three individuals who could not finish the experiment due to nausea and dizziness. VR technology has not yet progressed far enough to eradicate the side effects of dizziness and nausea and it is partly holding back the widespread adoption of this technology. These issues seem to stem from user’s brains responding negatively to the simulations which are explained in the video below.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BznbIlW8iqE (Source: SciShow “Why Does Virtual Reality Make Me Sick?”, Standard Youtube License)
The adoption of Augmented Reality in work and educational environments has been more rapid than the adoption of Virtual Reality for a number of reasons. The capabilities of the complete immersion of Virtual Reality are limitless and can offer an effective alternative to traditional modes of learning. The problems with adoption are the health concerns and the rather bulky, unrefined nature of the apparatus make efficient and simple use difficult. Widespread adoption may be possible once the technology is suitable enough for use in today’s busy world, but until then it is limited to those who are not deterred by the current inefficiencies.
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality have both come into the commercial spotlight in recent times due to the development of the technology and the real-world applications that they offer. While the technology and innovation are in the hands of corporations at this time, there must be more discussions as to who should regulate this powerful equipment. With the current lack of trust and increase of scepticism of Governments and their surveillance practices, they may not be the answer to VR and AR regulation. Although, if individual companies are left to regulate themselves, we may see another event akin to the Facebook data breaches. The power is in the hands of the consumers, as they are the ones who choose the companies and technologies that will succeed and fail through their purchases. The most efficient real-world application comes from Augmented Reality use in mobile devices. The simplicity and effective integration with devices that are used worldwide attract a much larger audience than the more niche market of Virtual Reality. As the technology progresses, we should see an overall refinement of Virtual Reality technology, and a worldwide adoption of Augmented Reality technology. As VR and AR gain popularity, we have to ask ourselves.
Will reality ever be the same?
Word Count: 1518 Words
Bailey, Dustin. 23 March, 2018. ‘With $4.3 billion in sales, 2017 was Steam’s biggest year yet’. PCGamesN. Website: https://www.pcgamesn.com/steam-revenue-2017
Business Wire. 1 June, 2017. ‘Worldwide Shipments of AR/VR Headsets Gain Momentum in the First Quarter with Strong Growth Forecast for the Rest of 2017, According to IDC’. Business Wire. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170601005802/en/Worldwide-Shipments-ARVR-Headsets-Gain-Momentum-Quarter
Microsoft. ‘A new way to see your world’. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/hololens/hardware
Munro, Kelsey. 19 March, 2018. ‘The Cambridge Analytica Facebook data breach explained’. SBS News. https://www.sbs.com.au/news/the-cambridge-analytica-facebook-data-breach-explained
Orland, Kyle. 3 June, 2018. Oculus Rift is now the most popular VR headset on Steam’. Ars Technica. Website: https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2018/03/oculus-rift-is-now-the-most-popular-vr-headset-on-steam/
Pesce, Mark. 18 September, 2018. ‘Critical Questions in Augmented Realities’. Lecture at Sydney University for ARIN2610: Internet Transformations.
Ruddle R, Payne S, Jones D. April, 2998. ‘Navigating Large-Scale ‘‘DeskTop’’ Virtual Buildings: Effects of Orientation Aids and Familiarity’. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Vol. 7, No. 2.
Sutherland, Ivan. 1968. A head-mounted three-dimensional display. Fall Joint Computer Conference, The University of Utah.
Thayer, Kate. 16 July, 2018. ‘New Research: Virtual Reality Can Help People Overcome Fear Of Heights’. Hartford Courant. Website: http://www.courant.com/consumer/hc-ls-tech-vr-fear-heights-20180722-story.html