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Virtual reality development is changing the way we communicate with each other. As it matures, VR is reducing the carbon footprint caused by traveling for work. It’s even allowing access to worlds unknown, from outer space to the inner workings of the human heart.
The technology has already taken flight: At the close of 2017, there were over 100 million VR application downloads. During its 2017 Oculus Conference, Mark Zuckerberg announced the company’s goal to have 1 billion people in virtual reality.
VR has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the 1980s and 90s when devices were much clunkier. The first VR boom ended in 1995, but now there’s a strong corporate push towards creating bargain, first-class experiences through hardware ranging from the headsets such as the HTC Vive and Google Daydream, to structures like the Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE). Content makers have responded with innovative storytelling, business and educational tools, visual art, and other ways of engaging consumers in this swelling frontier.
Mobile, Tethered, Standalone, All-in-one?
There are two main spheres of virtual reality hardware: Tethered and untethered. Tethered VR includes gaming consoles and PCs both, but some use PC itself as the catch-all term. The main advantage here is sheer operational power, allowing for a richer immersive experience.
Untethered VR—the older meaning of standalone—was initially limited to mobile phones, providing accessibility and better freedom of movement for users, but more limited tracking. For instance, the Gear VR and Google Daydream View headsets require a mobile phone to use as a display.
But today’s hardware developers are competing to build a hybrid solution: One that combines the power of a tethered headset with the mass appeal of mobile devices. Enter all-in-one VR devices—the new meaning of standalone. They address mobile VR’s tracking limitations and deliver an even simpler hardware setup for both consumers and VR programmers.
Oculus has the Oculus Go and the Santa Cruz; the Lenovo Mirage Solo and the HTC Vive Focus are both based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835. All of these standalone headsets include a CPU, GPU, sensor, and a display. But the newer Snapdragon 845, whose reference implementation has been a hot topic, is making its way into offerings from Google, Samsung, Sony, HTC, and LG, bringing bleeding-edge tech to a much wider audience.
Inside-out Tracking: A Promising Development
The Santa Cruz pioneered a new way of tracking user movement in untethered VR. Powered by AI, it sets a trend and meets an important demand.
The camera and sensors are based in the headset rather than the environment. Your position is then determined by artificial intelligence as you move through space. Because of this, inside-out tracking doesn’t require sensors to be set up in a specific space, and allows greater freedom of movement.
It also requires less external hardware, like markers and cameras, so it can be used in almost any room. This is exciting for users and developers as it expands the creative potential of the VR medium as a tool for interactive storytelling, including marketing.
Markerless inside-out tracking is even being used in the medical field. When Cornell University researchers examined this technology’s role in the “bench to bedside” approach of translational medicine, they found that inside-out tracking circumvents “line of sight” limitations in areas that are otherwise difficult to access.
Inside-out tracking exemplifies the best of VR: An immersive platform that allows movement, collaboration, and a new understanding around spatial intelligence.
Can VR Help Your Business Today?
VR specialists are being hired in the education, retail, automotive, architectural, aerospace, finance, marketing, tourism, and manufacturing sectors, and beyond. Whether or not your company chooses to invest directly in VR development, it may be worth it to consider VR’s storytelling potential as an asset to your customer experience.
Google Arts and Culture offers virtual reality tours of the Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art. Companies such as YouVisit are using immersive VR content to “engage and convert audiences through interactive 360 degree experiences.”
VR tours are being used by cities, hotels, and the real estate industry. Not only does it give tourists, renters, and buyers accurate spatial information, it also gives them a truer sense of place than pictures will ever convey.
Customers—particularly those of Generation Z—are also using VR to try before they buy. They’re also excited to engage with in-store experiences. Together these are set to become standard elements of modern, cross-platform branding: VR is already being integrated with social media and web presence in many consumer applications.
Staying Up-to-date on Market Research
You can keep your finger on the pulse of this emerging field by checking out publications such as:
- VentureBeat diligently covers developments in VR hardware, software, and applications
- MarketWatch’s forecast of VR-related industry opportunities, breaking down information by hardware and software components, global/regional impact, and markets
- Reuters’ report on the future of VR
- Grand View Research’s forecast through 2025 along with research support from industry domain experts
Virtual reality is no longer a promised concept from a vague future: It’s making waves now. How will your company leverage the opportunities of VR development?