The human quest for bigger and better has always lead to magnificent structures and mechanisms. However when it comes to technology, the smaller the device, the better. This certainly is the deal with Virtual Reality. The immersive, highly-engaging, transformative technology has seen a rapid growth in the previous year but the weight of VR gear really drags it down and keeps it from becoming a commercial technology in a huge part. But, whereas the previous year witnessed some revolutionary developments in VR software, the ongoing year promises some awesome advancements on the hardware front as well.
For starters, three major VR players – Oculus, Google, HTV – are working on some of their most sophisticated and light-weight VR headsets thus far. The VR community is acutely aware of the limitations that come in the way of commercialization of VR technology owing to the bulk and weight of the head-mounted gear and the fact that it needs to be connected to another device at all times i.e., a laptop or a cell phone. So the companies realize that they need to shed the access weight as well as the dependability for an external device. Naturally, that results in the pursuit of an all-in-one headset.
Oculus Go is the stand-alone VR device due to release sometime during the first quarter of 2018, announced at Oculus Connect in October. While Oculus Go will have all the computing built into it, and will be compatible with Samsung’s Gear VR content, it will not offer positional tracking. This means that the user can take benefit of the 360-degree view but they will always be positioned in the center of the panoramic view i.e. they will not be able to experience the feeling of moving around in the 3D environment.
Oculus Santa Cruz, however, is the more advanced version in that it does offer positional tracking as well as six-degrees-of-freedom (6DOF). The 6DOF refers to the ability of the device to recognize hand movements, offering a much wider spectrum of applications.
Google Daydream is another much awaited standalone device featuring positional tracking and 6DOF enabled via Google’s WorldSense system. Announced at Google I/O developers’ conference in May 2017, Daydream was meant to be built in conjunction with HTC and Lenovo. However, that conjunction came to an end as HTC wanted to focus on the Chinese market with their Vive Focus. However, Google and Lenovo still plan to launch the stand-alone Daydream VR device which is likely to come out this year as well.
HTC is working on its own untethered VR device called Vive Focus. The device is meant to be released only for the Chinese market. Vive Focus is another anticipated 6DOF, VR headset with an entire army of developers working currently to build content for the device but the release dates have not been finalized.
With their built-in capabilities, these devices will sure be a step ahead in VR technology representing the second wave of the full consumer VR devices, and brining the prices down for the VR systems as well.
Expected VR advancements in 2018
Now let us have a look at how the VR technology is expected to grow on the software front.
Currently, head-mounted gear is the most user-friendly VR device. But many high-tech companies are already pursuing the usability and visual enhancement through focus tunable display. What this technology is expected to achieve is a solution for visual discomfort by projecting virtual content in multiple focal planes. The distinctiveness of this technology is that that the images can be re-focused even after they have been captured. This is done by harnessing a micro-lens array and a special light field sensor to determine the direction of the light rays entering the camera. This serves as a way to record multidimensional light field which when passed through special software simulates the image rendering captured from different angles or on different planes.
However lighter than the earlier models, the weight and ergonomics of the VR device are still an issue. To counter these, DAQRI invented a helmet device which, at the moment, integrates Augmented Reality technology for use in industrial operational environments. Some high-end companies, such as Emerson, Siemens and Hyperloop, will be trying the Smart Helmet in the field.
Another model, they are working on is a pair of smart glasses also being tested for augmented reality viewing. The device is meant to have much of the computing power onboard, called “compute pack” by the company. This device model will reduce the bulk and consequently, the weight of the headset as well.
It seems that the immersive nature of the modern technologies is giving rise to as many innovative concepts as it is to novel hardware solutions. One such concept is the creation of merged reality space. A Canadian company, Sulon Q, is working on a product that is expected to completely transform the world around the user using augmented reality. The company calls it the “real-time machine vision technologies”.
However, another evolving development which is both AR/VR fusion-based is an all-in-one headset called Project Alloy, introduced by Intel at its August 2016 Developer Conference. Intel termed it as “an all-in-one virtual reality solution made from the ground up.” This device uses Intel’s realsense technology which is capable of changing the physical environment around the user into a digital one.
At the level of social media platforms, the VR feature for Facebook, called Facebook Space is probably the most awaited by the users. This space will use the company’s catalogue of 360-degree imagery to deliver virtual hangouts enabling users to connect with one another almost anywhere as virtual avatars. This will indeed be a social media revolution in its own accord which will make the current form of social media space look last century.
Untethered VR headsets with their new and improved built-in capabilities will characterize a huge leap for the consumer VR technology as well the sensation of freedom they offer considering the lightness of the gear coupled with dexterity of the built-in features. No way can these developments be passed as slight improvements as they open up a world of possibilities just waiting to be discovered. At any rate, VR technology is bound to become bigger than ever and pick up pace in evolution with that!