The history of the future

I’m reading The History of the Future, a book written by Blake J. Harris, author of Console Wars. It contains a foreword by Ernest Cline, author of Ready Player One, the book which used to be or still is required reading for all those working at Oculus VR.

The book brings the fascinating story of Palmer Luckey, who developed an astounding expertise in VR while living as a home-schooled teen in a trailer outside his parent’s house. The book describes how he got into contact with other VR and gaming-experts and was able to start his own company, Oculus VR, which was subsequently sold to Facebook for about 2.3 billion dollar in cash and stock.

In 2017, after issues related to 2016 political contributions to Republicans and public support for then-presidential nominee Donald Trump, Luckey departed Oculus. There is discussion about whether his political views were the immediate cause of his departure.

I’m not even halfway the book now, but it sure is a fascinating story, introducing the reader to many important and colorful characters in the gaming and VR-industry. It’s interesting to note how Luckey believed at the start of the Oculus project that the VR headset would be of a niche interest. VR at the time had a bad reputation after various cycles of hype and doom. It’s only when other folks joined the project and turned it into a real company that the ambitions became much bigger. That would only accelerate after Facebook bought Oculus VR – Mark Zuckerberg dreaming about one billion of users, not only for gaming, but also for other telepresence applications.

Today one may wonder whether the initial niche-orientation of Luckey wasn’t closer to the truth than the wild ambitions of Facebook. Even after the launch of the low priced and easy to use standalone headset Oculus Go the technology is far from being embraced by a mainstream audience.

Will this be different after a more sophisticated version, the Oculus Quest, gets on the market? As described in the book, people invariably have a “oh wow”-experience when they try the headsets for the first time. But those who are not into a niche of hard-core gaming and science-fiction, still are reluctant to actually buy a headset. It seems the wow-experience wears off quickly as there are no must-have applications.

Last week, at the Mobile World Congress, VR and especially AR-headsets were being applauded as these technologies seem to offer good reasons on the consumer-side to roll out 5G. However, a big player such as Microsoft made it clear that their cutting-edge AR-headset HoloLens is exclusively for enterprise-use. Also HTC seems to promote its Valve Focus Plus for “serious use” such as healthcare and security training.

At Microsoft experts say they still need years of development before they can enter the mainstream consumer market.

And where did Luckey go after he had to leave Oculus? He started another company, Anduril, which specializes in military applications such as border protection using AI, sensors, drones, towers and visualization. Virtual Reality, AI and mesh networking meet here for surveillance purposes and battlefield awareness. Another niche.

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