New Media experts: 3 steps to get ready for Virtual Reality

You’re a new media expert, specializing in video, social media, liveblogging or infograhics? Get ready for the final breakthrough in virtual reality, which is starting to impact sectors such as education and even the newspaper industry. As a columnist about new media for the business newspaper De Tijd in Belgium, I realized this year that there’s little time left to get ready for the transformation virtual reality will cause in very diverse industries.

When Facebook bought Oculus VR in 2014, Mark Zuckerberg said:

This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.

Zuckerberg sees virtual reality changing industries such as healthcare, education and sports news coverage. This evolution will take quite a few years, but the future is being prepared now and early but convincing examples will be soon accessible for huge audiences. Also take note that Facebook and YouTube enable users to post 360 degree videos, right now.

I’ll present you two recent articles demonstrating the high expectations regarding virtual reality, then I’ll give my recommendations.

The first article was published in the British newspaper The Financial Times and seems totally enthusiastic: Our virtual reality future is bigger than it appears. The author of the article, Jonathan Margolisbecame firmly convinced about virtual reality during a number of meetings in Los Angeles.

Interesting enough, the breakthrough is not “just” in entertainment. Education for instance is very interested in the new possibilities. Roy Taylor, a vice-president of the chipmaker AMD, told Margolis: “VR is happening here on a scale and with an energy you can’t believe.” Taylor added that the universities are pouring “millions of dollars into it.”  

The author of the article also refers to first-hand experience: he was totally blown away by a virtual reality video about the Wright Brother’s flight. He watched it using the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

Personally I use a prototype of the Oculus Rift but recently I bought the Google Cardboard headset – less sophisticated maybe, but very cheap.
cardboard

(Graphics from https://www.google.com/get/cardboard/)

A second article which is very positive about the future of virtual reality – even outside the traditional gamers communities – comes from Jessica Davies on Digiday. She reports about the worldwide ambitions of the British newspaper The Guardian in sports coverage.

Sports journalism is often very innovative as The Guardian demonstrates with the use of liveblogging. The future of sports coverage will be even more spectacular.  Davies quotes The Guardian’s sports editor Ian Prior as saying: “VR could have major ramifications for live sport experiences and really drive the next iteration of journalism.”

The New York Times recently sent Google Cardboard virtual headsets to its subscribers. In combination with the app NytVR people can experience news coverage about the refugee crisis and the Paris terror attacks in a far more immersive way.

What should you do in order to keep a close eye on the virtual reality breakthrough?

  • Get Google Cardboard It is cheap and gives access to a lot of interesting virtual reality content, it works with most smartphones.
  • Consider buying Samsung Gear VRThis headset works with Samsung smartphones and it powered by Oculus Rift.
  • Wait for Oculus Rift VR headset –  It will be available for consumers in Q1 201 and you’ll need a gaming PC to get access to a premium quality virtual reality experience.

Summary

Virtual Reality will start going mainstream in 2016, if you want to be part of the action, invest now in getting hands-on experience with it.

 I got inspired for this post as a participant in the Social Media Marketing course at Coursera, created by Northwestern University. Feel free to reach me at @rolandlegrand on Twitter. 

 

Microsoft’s HoloLens delivers a new level of augmented reality

Dieter Bohn and Tom Warren at The Verge had an amazing mixed realities experience at Microsoft. They tried out the HoloLens, a headset that projects holograms into real space. They report about having Minecraft on a coffee table and about an amazing experience during which an engineer who was communicating via Skype helped a reporter to fix a light switch, not only by talking but also by actually drawing on ‘his reality’. Sounds very weird but have a look at the video:

The applications go far beyond gaming of course: all kinds of support and learning situations could benefit from this.

Virtual Reality as a Tool for Humanity

A short but beautiful video featuring the grandfather of virtual reality, professor Tom Furness. He can be situated directly into a tradition which goes back to Vannevar Bush, who in 1945 described the Memex-device in As We May Think – a technological dream of making knowledge accessible in ways corresponding to the complexities and challenges of the contemporary world.

Bush and Furness have a military background in common, and the desire to give humanity the tools needed to do something about very urgent and complex issues.

Without further ado, here is the video from Sebastian Sanchez:


Virtuix works on virtual treadmill for military and police

Virtuix, the maker of the virtual reality treadmill Omni, prepares applications beyond gaming. Here you see the treadmill in a gaming context:

Roel Verrycken, the US correspondent of the Belgian newspaper De Tijd, had an interview with founder Jan Goetgeluk and asked which new applications his company is developing. Goetgeluk:

For training police or military personnel. We have a special military version which is a bit bigger and sturdier and which has some additional functions. Recently we participated at a specialized fair and there’s a lot of interest from that sector. Remember the attack on Osama bin Laden? The US military built the house in which he was hiding. Using the Omni the training coould be done virtually without having to build a complete house. Every possible environment can be programmed virtually for training purposes. We see a very important market there.

Asked how dependent Virtuix is on the development and commercial launch of the Oculus Rift headset, Goetgeluk explained Omni is compatible with all devices. He referred to the Samsung VR goggles, and said that smartphones will have the capacity to be transformed into virtual reality devices. “Everyone in the industry is determined to advance virtual reality. It’s still a fledgling industry, now we’ll have to gain mass market traction. That’s something for 2015.”

You can read the complete interview (Dutch language) on our newspaper website.

Author Neal Stephenson joins Magic Leap as Chief Futurist

Neal Stephenson is the author of Snow Crash, a book which helped me ‘get’ virtual worlds. Today he announces in a blog post that he agreed to become Chief Futurist of Magic Leap, which is a secretive company working on something which seems to get rid of keyboards and other clunky computer stuff in order to make things appear out of thin air. As Snow Crash was all about virtual reality and augmented reality (in 1992!), it seems to make sense to ask such a visionary author to become Futurist of this secretive company.

This is how Stephenson describes Magic Leap:

Yes, I saw something on that optical table I had never seen before–something that only Magic Leap, as far as I know, is capable of doing. And it was pretty cool. But what fascinated me wasn’t what Magic Leap had done but rather what it was about to start doing.Magic Leap is mustering an arsenal of techniques–some tried and true, others unbelievably advanced–to produce a synthesized light field that falls upon the retina in the same way as light reflected from real objects in your environment. Depth perception, in this system, isn’t just a trick played on the brain by showing it two slightly different images.

This is what our author hopes to do:

I’m fascinated by the science, but not qualified to work on it. Where I hope I can be of use is in thinking about what to do with this tech once it is available to the general public. “Chief Futurist” runs the risk of being a disembodied brain on a stick. I took the job on the understanding that I would have the opportunity to get a few things done.

He adds that Magic Leap is “not exclusively about games. It’s also going to be a great tool for readers, learners, scientists, and artists. Games, however, are a good place to start talking about why this tech is different.”

Keep an eye on his blog!

(Hat tip to Colin Dwyer on the two-way for bringing the news).

500,000 Google Cardboards

In June 2014 Google showed the world the Cardboard VR headset, today it has been announced 500,000 of those devices have been shipped. This is extraordinary, realizing the project was ‘just’ an experiment done by two engineers in the Google Cultural Institute in Paris, David Coz and Damien Henry, during the 20 percent time Google engineers get for personal projects.

As explained in the previous post, cheap and mobile VR headsets could be crucial in turning virtual reality into something which is used by a mainstream audience. Especially students and learners could benefit (one can assemble a Cardboard oneself or buy it for around $25).

At the LeWeb conference in Paris this week people could try the Cardboard, it seems it was quite a success.

Smartphone-based VR headsets open up new possibilities for learning

Google CardboardConnectivism guru Stephen Downes is right to point out alternatives for Oculus Rift such as Google Cardboard. You can buy these things (which allow to convert smartphones into VR devices) from others or build it yourself. I never tried it out myself so I cannot compare with Oculus Rift, but I see the pedagogical advantages of building oneself a virtual headset. Downes refers to a blog post by Donald Clark: 7 learning principles that work in VR (one of those principles being “learning by doing”).

Samsung GearIn the meantime Samsung Gear VR is now officially available in the US, it launches internationally ‘early 2015′, so Road to VR says. The interesting thing about these smartphone-based VR headsets is that they allow for short-term immersive experiences, untied to desktops or laptops so the devices are easier to share.

Immersive experiences for short attention spans

One of my doubts about immersive media such as virtual worlds is that they are often extremely time-consuming – either you ‘get it’ and stay for hours in-world or you don’t and you leave without ever returning. In this new mutation of immersive media however one can dip into an immersive environment – for instance to enjoy a song in a VR setting as suggests Maria Korolov on Hypergrid Business:

Obviously, the killer app for virtual reality is going to be music videos. The length of a song is just about the right amount of time for an easy introduction to VR, and after you’ve watched it, you can pass it around to all your friends.

Now imagine the typical short educational videos used for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) – one could imagine using lightweight mobile VR headsets for accessing short immersive experiences in this context. I first had to smile looking at the smartphone-based headsets, but now I realize they open up very new possibilities.

Robots, VR Headsets and Virtual Worlds are made for each other

People don’t get ideas, they make them. That’s the pedagogy of constructionism explained in the shortest possible way, I guess, and Colin Lewis at RobotEnomics is very good at that. He posted about why employees should be playing with Lego Robots – because it makes it so more obvious what the Internet of Things is all about, more so than by letting people watch Powerpoint presentations.

However, you don’t need to despair if you don’t have a robot around. There’s something called Robot Virtual Worlds which is a high-end simulation environment that enables students, without robots, to learn programming.

Now let’s take another step and use the Oculus Rift, like these guys:

I’ve no experience at all with Robot Virtual Worlds nor do I have any information about which virtual robot programs are compatible with which virtual headset, but it seems obvious that virtual headsets, robots, virtual worlds and programming lessons are made for each other.

Oculus Rift can be a Tool for Data Visualization (and Marketing of course)

Last week a colleague at my newspaper told me about Oculus Rift experiments by data visualization experts. It seems logical to use virtual reality for data visualization – after all that’s what people also did and I guess still do in virtual environments such as Second Life and OpenSim. Personally I never did much more than 3D brainstorming by putting up media billboards showing videos and websites about a certain topic. I (my avatar) walked around those things and meditated, making all kinds of associations.

I did some browsing to find more compelling examples of data visualization, and these are some must-read articles:

– Mike Wheatley at SiliconAngle.com explains how Virtual Reality brings Big Data visualization to life. He talks about engineers using OpenSim for visualization experiments and the development of a 3-D data browser based on the Unity3D game development engine “capable of rendering 100,000 data objects in about 15 seconds onto a bog standard 2011 Macbook Air”.

– Andy Greenberg on Wired wrote about the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) turning Oculus into a Weapon for Cyberwar. The real use by soldiers is still years away, but the researchers envision a future in which similar devices could be used for offensive hacking as well as defense and reconnaissance.

Fidelity Labs, Fidelity Investments’ R&D think-tank, has launched StockCity, a virtual-reality view of an investor’s portfolio. I still have to test it, it seems something between a useful visualization tool and a marketing gadget, but here is a video:

Arch Virtual ran a story about City Planning and Urban Design with Oculist Rift and they published an e-book about Unity3D and Architectural Visualization (including a chapter about the Rift).

So lots of experimenting going on, still early phase.

 

Five conditions for a perfect Virtual Reality experience

I had some very nice Oculus Rift experiences. I tried Titans of Space, an exploration of our solar system. The head tracker of the DK2 proved very useful: I could use the dashboard of my small spacecraft by nudging and tilting my head. Here you find a video by VR Review:

You find Titans of Space on the share section of the Oculus site.

Another beautiful experience is Lighthouse Lost Mansion which seems to be an adventure in several episodes. Very beautiful start scene on a rock in the sea with dark skies. I found this download at The Rift Arcade Market where you can actually buy Rift experiences (or sometimes get them for free).

I also continued my exploration of Second Life using Oculus Rift. I went to the Linden Endowment for the Arts (LEA) and walked around at the Welcome Area (SLurl, requires viewer download) and visited Sister Planet (SLurl), to thoroughly enjoy the scenery. Looking up at the vegetation above my head was very nice – really very immersive and realistic. Here you see a picture of the place in a normal view:

Sister Planet on Second Life

I got the idea of visiting these areas on the Oculus Rift DK2 Intergalactic Space Station (SLurl) where you’ll find more suggestions for Rift inspired visits. The Intergalactic Space Station also lives on Facebook.

Even though I’m just a beginning Rift explorer, I’ve some ideas about what is needed for a great virtual reality experience.

– The obvious: being surrounded by a high quality environment.

No hassle. Right now different downloads often require tweaking display settings of your laptop or desktop.

– A bit less obvious, but feasible: great 3D audio.

Haptics! Have a look what this could mean these days (hat tip to Chris Baranluk on NewScientist):

– But what’s also needed is a social dimension. I saw very nice Rift cinemas. You can sit in a very nice virtual cinema and watch a movie, but ultimately what would be fun is meeting others. The social dimension is also very much something the new owner of Oculus Rift, Mark Zuckerberg, wants. Ultimately the Rift must bring us together.

Right now, in this very early phase, most Rift experiences seem to be a bit spooky: the visual effects are powerful, yet without haptics and others who join the experience online these experiences lack some fundamental dimensions.

The fact that one can experiment with the Rift in Second Life is cool for exactly this reason: even though the environment is far from perfect (there is a reason why Linden Lab builds a new virtual platform), the fact one can actually meet other people in en open-ended environment is fabulous.

This could be a competitive advantage for Linden Lab: the fact they already work with this huge virtual world community and have quite some experience with being a platform for many different communities.

Do you see other conditions for a good VR experience? Let me know!