The VR Revolution is coming…

It’s just going to take a while and we need to work on the hardware. #brb

But that’s not completely true. Well, not based on what we saw and heard yesterday at the VR Days Conference in Amsterdam. Granted we are not living in a simulation as yet (well, we aren’t aware if we are), but depending on what you would like from VR, we might be closer than you think.

For ease of reading, the article is divided into two themes; 1) How do we get there? and 2) What should we use VR for?

How do we get there?

Tim Mirrilon argues that what makes VR unique is not that it is interactive and creates empathy. Great films do both and  we would argue the same for great books. Mirrilon argues that it is because VR is personal and immersive. That it is the very nature of VR to be a personal experience that completely removes all other experiences. There is no checking social media while in VR, whereas while watching a film you can. Therefore, a new word just made up for you, VR is not disruptable. Mirrilon is convinced that the use of volumetric video, which captures the light of a scene, will render VR so realistic that it will blend the interactive, personal and immersive into a space that is as real as the one you are in.

Martin De Ronde from Force Field was one of the most grounded speakers of the day. Speaking about the three criticisms leveled against VR; price, content and experience, De Ronde spoke about how dramatically the tide has turned from positive in 2015 to mostly negative in 2017. Analysts, Media, Investors and creators have experienced a downturn in how they feel about VR, however his company Force Field, has not felt that at all. De Ronde reminded us that back in 2004 mobile gaming was nowhere near what we see now and he believes that the reason for that growth is the iPhone. He argues that it is not about price nor content, but experience and that the experience must live within the hybrid ecosystem and not outside of it as though it is a special technology.

Stefano Baldassi is the senior director of neuroscience and analytics at Meta, integrating neuroscience into the development of Meta’s augmented reality headset. His talk focused on how humans see and how it assists them with creating multi-sensory interactions with the world. Baldassi believes that as we have already incorporated the ventral pathway into AR, what we needed to do is incorporate the dorsal pathway. He also pointed out that objects that are just out of reach (in the extrapersonal space) become more ‘real’. Comparing the development of linear perspective and its impact on creating realism in art, Baldassi believes that we are nearing that development in AR. He states that we need to move from desks and palms to eyes and brains so that computers are not mere objects, but the very space we work in.

From the how of the tech to the how by who. Leen Segers has spent the last year mapping the EU ecosystem. Currently there are over 500 companies in this space, half of which are from the UK, France, Germany and Sweden. The top country in terms of deals is Sweden. Leen’s talk moved into the panel discussion that looked at funding and growth of the industry. Although a great deal of VR is happening in Europe, the funding is not there and most capital comes from the US. This is because investment is made in the vision and belief of the founders and not in a three to five year business plan.

What should we use VR for?

It was with great admiration that we watched the talk by Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizzaro from Tender Claws. The duo work seamlessly with VR exploring its constraints while extolling its virtues. They work with what there is and like true artists explore the medium, pushing it to its limits and working within it by opening it up. Their artwork (George in the Bath), storytelling (PRY) & gaming (Virtual Virtual Reality) showed what happens when we release VR & AR out of watching it’s own navel gazing and into the creative world.

Google has other plans. Jason Toff, NYC lead for AR/VR says that Google wants to give us all super powers by minimizing friction to increase the bandwidth of communication, minimizing the learning curve and maximizing the skill ceiling. How? Lots and lots of prototyping and lots and lots of feedback, done with creators like Peter Chen and Alex Safayan.

Michael Gourlay believes that VR and AR could be used to enhance our senses, for example: seeing wifi signals. As I viewed a video of red bands moving over an office space, we did for a minute want to put a tinfoil hat on my head to protect my brain against the rays. It was uncomfortable to see the signals shifting along the corridor and over the people. Other ways Gourlay sees this as useful is in telepresence, so that learning can be easier. Using VR to create holograms of people in your space. I immediately thought of the joy of watching my far-flung family in my lounge.

What really made me sit up was the way in which Gourlay spoke about VR’s impacts on machine learning. He calls it the Recipe of Generalised Artificial Intelligence and believes VR & AR can move us towards sentience in the following way:

  1. Create a unified theory of cognition
  2. Develop deep machine learning algorithms
  3. Acquire vast amounts of sensory data
  4. Use cloud to train ML algorithms from that data
  5. Sentience

Gourlay’s final goal is to be understood and understand machines, with machines finally integrated into our minds. For him, what we can do focused on creating outside of ourselves will ultimately move inward.

The work of Boo Aguilar is so inspiring it is a challenge to articulate it. Wearing a shirt that said SAD AS F**K, Boo spoke about how the passing of his mother and grandfather led him to look at the uses of VR outside gaming and shopping into it’s capacity to “use Hollywood graphics for rockstar scientists”. With support from MIT, IBM, Google, Samsung, Microsoft and Volkswagen, Aguilar works on projects at the intersection of technology, philosophy, science and arts. With a call to change the world and take responsibility for the creation and application of technology, Aguilar showed the way in which our world can be forever shifted. Please do take a look at FlagCX.

Working in a similar way is The Guardian’s Francessca Panetta. The Guardian uses VR to allow you to experience events and encounters you couldn’t otherwise have, to involve you in the story and to give you a different point of view. Covering several projects, from 6×9 which gives a virtual experience of solitary confinement, First Impressions which shows how a child’s vision progresses during the first year of life and how deeply dependent a child is on a caregiver to Limbo, which gives the user the experience of an asylum seeker while they wait to hear whether they have been granted asylum. At the moment distribution is on the site, at events, with Facebook and YouTube 360 as well as cardboard sets given out with the paper. Similar to Aguilar’s work, the VR experiences are supported by more content such as online articles.

Within the entertainment space, Yitian Han brought China to Holland and discussed her journey opening a VR Cinema in China. High Fidelity spoke about entertainment in the same vein. How do we get people to interact? Co-founded by Philip Rosedale from Second Life, High Fidelity continues the same-as-this-world experience, which Rosedale explains as “collapsing distance and placing us in a shared space”. Shopping digital products that can be limited, expensive, shrunk or expanded to fit, it would be great for those that view shopping as a form of sport. Using the blockchain and certificates as bragging rights, one can’t even shoplift in this VR as the object is removed when you leave the store.

In the same league of “life changing” as Boo Aguilar, was Tupac Martir. Not so much a career as a life, Martir is living VR in the most artful, creative and collaborative way one can. London based Satore Studio is a multidisciplinary art, design and creative production group. Tomorrow Maritr, with Submarine Channel, will create a VR piece from scratch!

Will write again soon 🙂


About the Author
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Colin Payne

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Colin is the Chief Creative Officer at Polymorph.

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Chantal Louw

Entrepreneur in residence @Polymorph

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