Technology... it just never stops growing. Amazing things happen every single day. You wake up, a Google robot beats the Go game world champion. You wake up, Amazon demonstrates Amazon Go, which is a grocery store without check out using Computer Vision, Deep Learning algorithms and other complex stuff.
What is happening there in the Silicon Valley (and everywhere in the world) transforms the world into a sort of a dreamland for those interested deeply in technology like me.
I currently work as a VR Game Developer in the Game Lab here at the TU/e and doing research on how to create empathy through VR experiences. Sometimes I meet people that are more interested into Augmented Reality (AR) and we start arguing about who will take the other in the future. I honestly believe that it will be the next big technology battle, where different big companies will invest into one of them and start developing crazy stuff.
Microsoft is already investing a lot on the HoloLens, which is "the first fully untethered, holographic computer, enabling you to interact with high‑definition holograms in your world." This means that Microsoft is in the Augmented Reality side. On the other hand, there is Facebook who acquired Oculus currently building the Oculus Rift. Moreover, there is HTC and Steam, working together on the HTC Vive. Both of these headsets are Virtual Reality headsets. This shows that tech battle already started.
Both AR and VR are not yet consumer ready: Yes, they are being sold and shipped, but they are still too expensive and not perfect yet. Those who possess them are usually developers and huge VR or AR enthusiasts. Of course this will not last for long, I believe that in 2-3 years, everyone will start buying the headsets at home for them or their family and friends.
Mark Zuckerberg, the man who spent $2 billion of Facebook's money on Luckey's VR company Oculus, is a huge VR enthusiast: "We're working on VR because I think it's the next major computing and communication platform after phones," he said in July 2016. "we'll have the power to share our full sensory and emotional experience with people whenever we'd like."
Both Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are similar in the goal of immersing the user, though both systems do this in different ways. With AR, users continue to be in touch with the real world while interacting with virtual objects around them. With VR, the user is isolated from the real world while immersed in a world that is completely fabricated. As it stands, VR might work better for video games and social networking in a virtual environment, such as Second Life, or even PlayStation Home.
On top, you can see the Microsoft Hololens and in the bottom the Oculus Rift headset.
In terms of experience, they both differ a lot. AR is more about wearing something light such as glasses while VR is about wearing a huge headset.
While AR will eventually be neatly tucked into the sides of your sports sunnies, though, VR is always going to have to enclose your eyes and ears with lenses, displays and headphones to work.
AR glasses will cause etiquette problems as they 'disappear' whereas VR will go the other way with us very clearly 'plugging in' to a virtual world for a session. With pass-through cameras there could even be some kind of hybrid wearable that offers both.
In general, AR specs are lighter and more comfortable than VR headsets and they are more likely to be wireless.
This is important because, at least for now and the next few years, no one will go out in the street with a heavy headset, but going out with a modified glass is possible. What I am saying is that I see VR more as a technology where the person stays home to play video games while AR will be much more there outside.
Now, which of the two technologies represents the future ?
This is really the question of whether humans want what they experience in the future to be based in well, reality, or constructed, artificial and cut off from what we now refer to as reality. That's a big question.
We're social creatures. So you might think VR has a slight disadvantage - augmented reality demos such as HoloLens' Halo 5 demo allow a group of users to stand in a circle around 'holograms' simultaneously.
But steps are already being taken to make VR more social - Facebook is betting big on it and we are beginning to see real investment in platforms which allow virtual hangouts such as AltSpaceVR. And look no further than at art projects such as the telepresence installation Me and My Shadow which connected visitors from four cities in a virtual space.
Neither of these technologies is as passive or as social in a physical location sense of the word as say, hanging out half-watching TV. And this could be a big factor. To play a game or experience on Oculus or HTC Vive, you have to commit yourself fully. And VR is thrilling and entertaining enough that gamers will do this, not to mention students, say, getting their heads around anatomy.
Perhaps the difference will be VR as an at-home treat, as console gaming or kicking back to a Blu-ray is today and AR for more of a social, everyday experience that doesn't take you away from smartphone alerts, walking down the street or playing with your kids.
The answer, then? Well, it's both isn't it?
Note: I just published Shapion on Android. It represents an achievement for me as this has been a small dream. Here is a link: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.Ahres.Shapion
Onto the next project :)
Ahmed Ahres, 22.