Andreessen Horowitz, the $4 billion venture capital firm (yes, the one that invested in companies such as Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook and Airbnb, among many others), published last January their top 16 tech trends here, and guess what? Virtual Reality is #1.
Many of us lived the Virtual Reality (VR) hype through the 90’s and the following disenchantment. Simply put, neither the technology nor the market was ready
But Palmer Luckey, a (then) 19 year old ‘kid’ from Long Beach, California, after having spent his teenage years tinkering with up to 50 head-mounted displays and building more than five cost-effective virtual reality displays, finally put the first version of what he called the “Rift” as a DIY-kit on Kickstarter on June 2012. In just 36 hours the campaign surpassed $1 million in funding, eventually ending with $2,437,429. Almost two years after, on March 25, 2014, Luckey’s company, Oculus VR, was acquired by Facebook for US$2 billion.
Since then, it seems that every big media or tech company (Sony, Pixar, Disney, Facebook, Google, Samsung and Microsoft among others) is interested on VR technology. But why this sudden crazy interest in VR technology? In short: the first time you experience VR through a headset like the Oculus Rift, you understand why (read: you’ll be mind blown). Just in case you haven’t (please, try!), I’ve compiled five reasons why I think this technology will be highly disruptive (in the “Peter Thiel’s sense”) in 2015:
#1. Presence has finally arrived
In the early days of VR (pioneered by Jaron Lanier), two main issues plagued VR developments: “motion sickness” and lack of “presence”. You get motion sickness when wearing a VR head-mounted display if you move your head and the scenery do not change fast enough. You can get symptoms like dizziness, nausea or even vomiting. On the other hand, “presence” is the feeling you get when you wear a head-mounted display, and aside from the realistic 3D rendering, you feel as if ‘you are there’. I’ve personally witnessed more than fifty people trying the Rift for the first time, and almost half of them try to ‘touch’ the ‘things’ they see with their hands (you can also watch ‘first-timers’ reactions here). Yes sir, that’s what can be called presence.
The Rift achieve presence and lack of motion sickness through a wide field of vision (more than 100 degrees) and a really well engineered (fast plus accurate) head rotation tracking. If you are curious about the details, I recommend this book from Manning Publications.
#2. VR is a new medium and a new interface
VR is both a new medium and a new interface.
As a new medium, it’s characterized as a post-symbolic medium, meaning that you do not need a ‘language’ to communicate in that medium, the user just ‘experience things’ there. Some people have even called VR ‘the empathy machine’ after projects like this one, funded by United Nations, in which you experience (via immersive video) the day-to-day reality of a Syrian refugee. VR as a medium is storytelling on steroids.
The music industry is also getting up to speed with the technology, with artists such as Paul McCartney, Jack White, Beck, U2 and Coldplay experimenting with VR.
As a new interface (just as the birth of the computer mouse allowed new kind of applications and human-computer interactions) VR will unlock interaction possibilities we’re not, of course, aware as of now. As an example, Guy Godin has developed a ‘Virtual Desktop for VR’. I know, it may sound silly, but keep in mind that the natural interface for humans should be closer to immersive 3D than to a flat 2D screen.
#3. Big companies have their hands on Virtual Reality
Facebook bought Oculus VR, Samsung has partnered with Oculus VR, Sony has its own VR device in progress, Google-backed ‘Magic Leap’ is trying to make the perfect Augmented Reality Device after Google Glass fiasco, and Leap Motion has literally resurrected thanks to VR.
A month ago, it was announced that Youtube is developing 360º video streaming, VR ready.
It all sounds like the early days of the Web, in which all the money from the Valley was suddenly redirected to the new technology. And yes, it may be well that a new bubble is coming bigger as ever, but also remember that the Web survived those days by filtering out noise from value.
#4. VR development is progressing at blazing speed
#5. Real world applications are already appearing and the spectrum is huge
If you follow ‘Road to VR’ or ‘Enter VR’ podcasts, you’ll quickly notice that each and every day new applications are appearing: from immersive journalism, to healing diplopia through virtual reality and everything in between: gaming (of course), adult content, movies (Story Studio and Zero Point), mental ailments healing and fitness. If you are interested in the applications of VR to Social Sciences, ‘Infinite Reality’ is a fascinating read.
As a side note, at Outliers Collective we are working to bring VR to Data Visualization (or Data Visualization to VR), developing D3.js-like capabilities into both Unity and WebVR. One of our early examples, a real-time network visualization experience can be seen here. Seems like we are not alone, you can check also ‘6000 moons’ (a data visualization/simulation of nearly 6000 objects orbiting around us in space)
***This is a guest post by Oscar Marín
Data Engineer and co-founder at Outliers Collective