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Virtual reality is changing the tech game. It’s captured the imaginations of designers and developers around the world, new VR startups are popping up every week, and most importantly, the biggest names in the tech industry are getting their hands virtually dirty. It’s the space race all over again, with creators competing against each other, challenging one another to step further into the unknown. There are new advancements, new toys, new industries and brand new innovations hitting the market every day, which means one thing for consumers — there’s tons of new tech and VR trends to get ready for!
Even with today’s most advanced virtual reality machines, users are limited to auditory and visual feedback. There are some machines, like the Oculus Rift, which have sensory feedback built into hand-held controllers to simulate vibrations and touch, but it’s the same tech that has been around in wireless gaming controllers for ages — the sensations are limited to what the internal spinning motors can do. But, outside of audio and visual feedback, what else is there to sense? Will VR machines start imitating those theme park, 4D movie experiences that pump different smells into the theater and spray you with water?
Well, according to what Frank Azor, the general manager of Alienware, said in an interview with TIME, "once you begin catering to the rest of the senses, like what we feel body-wise, temperature-wise, and smell, the reality factor of virtual reality [becomes] stronger and the virtual piece begins to fade."
Which means the biggest virtual reality companies are looking to blur the lines between VR and complete immersion. The tech isn’t there yet, but companies like Microsoft are getting close. Very close.
One of the biggest VR space races out there is for haptic feedback. A premise detailed throughout sci-fi novels for the last decade, haptic feedback is a user’s ability to touch and actually feel what they are interacting with virtually. It’s your ability to pick up an apple while strapped into the virtual world and not know the difference.
At the head of the haptic race is the research team at Microsoft. As detailed in a recent blog post, the team is working on four unique haptic devices, an incredible feat in itself. As the blog says:
There are many reasons why haptic is such a hurdle. Anyone who’s been to the movies understands that the eye and the ear can be tricked; film after all, at 24 frames per second, isn’t true motion. But haptic is different and represents a challenge many orders of magnitude larger in complexity. Some of the challenges lie in the area of hardware. Laboratory prototypes such as exoskeletons and other hand mounted devices tend to be cumbersome, both to fit to individual users as well as to don and remove. Many current prototype devices simulate only a specific sensation, such as texture, heat, or weight and may not be versatile enough to attract users. Complex mechanics can render a device too expensive, too big or too fragile to be viable as a consumer product.
The Microsoft Research team – Mike Sinclair, Christian Holz, Eyal Ofek, Hrvoje Benko, Ed Cutrell, and Meredith Ringel Morris – have been exploring ways existing technology can generate a wide range of haptic sensations that can fit within hand-held VR controllers, similar in look and feel to those currently used by consumers, enabling users to touch and grasp virtual objects, feel the sliding of fingertips along surfaces and more. Their dream: today’s users interacting with the virtual digital world, more naturally, and in more ways than ever before.
So, haptic feedback is still a little ways away from the full body suits we’ll see in the movie Ready Player One, but Microsoft’s devices are a massive, Neil Armstrong-sized, step in the virtual space race.
Taking a step back from a fully virtual experience, the minds at MIT and Cornell have been working to evolve prototyping by combining augmented reality with robotic modeling and 3D printing. As reported by Colm Hebblethwaite at VR360,
The Robotic Modelling Assistant (RoMA) allows users wearing an AR headset and using two handheld controllers to build 3D models with a computer programme. A robotic arm gets to work building a skeletal model using a 3D printer mounted on its hand.
Project leader Huaishu Peng described the benefits of the project as allowing users to “integrate real-world constraints into a design rapidly, allowing them to create well-proportioned tangible artifacts. Users can even directly design on and around an existing object, and extending the artifact by in-situ fabrication.
With a robotic arm printing in real-time as designers build and prototype, the uses of an AR and 3D printing integrated system are enormous, bringing a new era of intelligent, robotic design assistance.
One of the novel advancements to come from virtual reality is its combination with augmented reality. Now, while it may seem a little redundant, the distinction between augmented and virtual reality is what makes their combination so interesting.
Augmented reality is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, providing a composite view, while virtual reality is the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way. It seems like apples to oranges, until you dive into the applications of combining AR with VR.
In 2016, Intel first introduced Project Alloy, a wireless, self-contained headset which lets users change the physical environment around them into a digital one. Instead of simply superimposing an image over their real-world view, the combination of the two technologies allows users to interact with their “real-world” virtual landscape.
As reported by Matt Burgess of Wired as he play-tested the new technology,
By scanning Intel's testing room with its real-sense technology (a depth sensor and array of cameras) the company is able to change the physical environment around you into a digital one.
Real-world objects become digital. For instance, the couch and coffee table within the room were turned into physical objects on the spacecraft you are transported to. The idea behind this, and the entire premise of Alloy, is to allow someone to 'merge' their world and still be able to walk and move around while wearing a VR headset… It was completely possible to move around the room, walking from one wall to another and avoiding in-game objects that in reality are obstacles.
For anyone who’s ever immersed themselves in a high-quality virtual reality machine, you know your experience is limited to the open area you’ve reserved for yourself. But with new technology like Project Alloy, your real-world integrates itself into the virtual one.
Virtual reality is also making leaps in the social landscape. From VR games where users interact with each other through chosen avatars to building your dream kitchen, virtual reality is working its way into how humans interact with one another. As Joe Bardi writes,
Virtual Reality is about to shake up retail, with the planet’s biggest merchants already making moves to take control of this emerging category. Global giant Alibaba, the world’s largest retailer, has launched a VR store called Buy+ that allows shoppers to wander a VR mall complete with big name stores like Macy’s, Target and Costco. Internet auction giant eBay teamed with Australian retailer Myer for what was touted as “the world’s first VR department store.” Meanwhile, retail colossus Amazon.com may not be far behind, as recent job postings hint at a future VR for Prime shoppers.
Beyond e-commerce, VR is also seeing steady adoption across a host of product categories. There’s already a VR car dealership, and VR for real estate has been gaining traction for a while.
Now, while it might seem like another way for users to close themselves off from one another, the prospect of socialization on a tech platform is playing a significant role in the advancement of virtual technology. As Stan Glukhoedov says,
One of the most pivotal applications in the growth of social VR is the introduction of platforms in which users can virtually engage with one another, similar to traditional social media outlets. This includes AltspaceVR, Facebook’s “Spaces,” Linden Lab’s Sansar (creators of Second Life) and TheWaveVR where interactive content and live moments are shared as well as game-play with personalized avatars.
Along with engaging with one another in a virtual space, VR is allowing users to experience live events from the comfort of their living room. As Stan goes on to say, “VR is considered the next revolution for real-time events, similar to the shift from radio to TV… the live VR market is already flourishing, and by 2021, it is expected to exceed $75 billion, where concert, gaming and sporting events already take the lead in the industry.”
With the world’s largest companies spearheading advancement, virtual reality is quickly integrating itself into every aspect of our lives. From innovating gaming to even changing the way we shop or enjoy a live concert, virtual reality is here to stay — and our students need to be prepared for it. Now, a lot of these new technologies are still years away from world-wide implementation, but the writing's on the wall.
We are at the tip of a new technological dawn, and virtual reality is leading the charge — are you and your learners ready for the future of virtual reality?
Just like the call for elementary internet skills in the early 2000’s and today’s push for coding literacy, virtual reality needs to make the same impact on our student’s educations as it is making on today’s industries. By preparing them today, we’re ensuring their success in the future.
Which is exactly why we designed our newest enrichment camp, Blocksmith. With the Blocksmith system, students learn how to create games and experiences for virtual/augmented reality. A fun and exciting journey for students and teachers alike, Blocksmith allows learning environments to create, share and experience the wide world of virtual reality, offering students unique opportunities to learn and explore. The Blocksmith learning system introduces students to the world of virtual reality, preparing them for the not-too-distant virtual future. But don’t just take our word for it!
If you want to learn more about giving your students the tools they need to succeed in the virtual future, check out the Blocksmith Educational Camp or view the Blocksmith webinar, where PCS Edventures and the CEO of Blocksmith, Markus Nigrin, dive into exactly how an early adoption of virtual reality can prepare your students for tomorrow’s virtual future.
Bardi , J. (2017, December 05). Top Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Technology Trends 2017. Retrieved March 13, 2018, from https://www.marxentlabs.com/virtual-augmented-reality-trends-2017/
Burgess, M. (2017, January 09). Hands-on with Intel's 'merged reality' Project Alloy headset. Retrieved March 15, 2018, from http://www.wired.co.uk/article/test-hands-on-intel-project-alloy
Bushey, R. (2017, August 29). Advancements in Virtual Reality Device Development. Retrieved March 13, 2018, from https://www.rdmag.com/article/2017/08/advancements-virtual-reality-device-development
Glukhoedov, S. (2017, November 28). Socialization will make VR mainstream. Retrieved March 13, 2018, from https://venturebeat.com/2017/11/28/socialization-will-make-vr-mainstream/
Hebblethwaite, C. (2018, February 20). MIT and Cornell combine AR with 3D printing. Retrieved March 13, 2018, from https://www.virtualreality-news.net/news/2018/feb/20/mit-and-cornell-combine-ar-3d-printing/
Microsoft. (2018, March 08). Touching the Virtual: How Microsoft Research is Making Virtual Reality Tangible. Retrieved March 14, 2018, from https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/blog/touching-virtual-microsoft-research-making-virtual-reality-tangible/?ranMID=24542&ranEAID=TnL5HPStwNw&ranSiteID=TnL5HPStwNw-Kc1oqI0x4g0jKMEivRFukA&tduid=%283932a9fdf5b1073accba770af80bef9f%29%28256380%29%282459594%29%28TnL5HPStwNw-Kc1oqI0x4g0jKMEivRFukA%29%28%29
Neiger, C. (2017, March 22). The Future of Virtual Reality: 5 Things to Know. Retrieved March 14, 2018, from https://www.fool.com/investing/2017/03/22/the-future-of-virtual-reality-5-things-to-know.aspx
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