Speaking at Cork’s first ever Virtual Reality conference, Derek Gallagher – event host and founder of MavricVR – noted that “at present there is no VR or AR capital of Europe… and there will be”.
Those unfamiliar with the abbreviations above might also be unaware that Cork City, and Ireland in general, is quietly emerging as a potential global player in one of the most exciting and rapidly evolving marketplaces in the world – Virtual (VR), Augmented (AR), and Mixed-Reality (MR) technologies – where the market revenue is expected to exceed 100 billion euro by 2020.
— James Conroy (@JamesConroyIre) March 16, 2017
The recent MavricVR conference held in Cork’s new Digital Hub – Republic of Work – had much to offer those currently engulfed in the expansive world of VR and AR as well as provide newcomers to the area a wealth of information and thought-provoking insight into the revolutionary technology.
The conference shed light on the extensive work being conducted by private industry and collaborative research teams, alike – both at home and abroad. In recent years, more and more individuals and organisations have been attempting to establish themselves as leaders in their respective and evermore refined VR/AR-fields.
Whether for education, entertainment, communication or optimization, the application of the hardware and software on display ranged from Immersive VR’s impressive Apollo 11 VR experience – to the DAQRI AR ‘smart-helmet’ – who recently signed Tier 1 defence contracts in the US. Headline speakers at the conference included: Robert Scoble (UploadVR), Gaia Dempsey (Co-Founder DAQRI), Ryan Mesches (Microsoft HoloLens) Denis O’Keeffe (Logitech) and Dave Whelan (Immersive VR Education).
Beyond this, and perhaps more exciting and relevant to the consumer were revelations that next-generation commercial products are set to be released by the end of 2017.
During the conference I had the opportunity to speak with Robert Scoble – ‘one of the most connected guys in Silicon Valley’ who told me that “by the end of the year they (most of the products currently on the market) are going to be obsolete, because – I already know that Oculus and Vive are coming out with better screens, and smaller form factor, and wireless”.
Beyond his role as entrepreneur in residence at UploadVR, Robert’s accolades include that of being the most followed person on Twitter in its first two years, the 79th user on Instagram – and not only that – but Google’s ‘Siri’ was launched in his house. During our conversation I asked him speak on the importance of the research being conducted at Cork’s very own Tyndall National Institute where he had visited that morning.
“It’s very important, because right now the HoloLens is big… it’s so heavy it makes my nose hurt. It’s really heavy and it’s really big… These guys are making projectors and displays that are really really small, and really really light, and use very little battery and that’s going to be key, because if you need a big frickin’ battery back here to run your glasses you’re not going to like it. It’s going to be heavy again. And we need glasses that don’t have all that”. [Listen to the extended interview here]
In 2016 it emerged that Tyndall spin-out company ‘InfiniLED’ were acquired by Oculus – presumably because of their ground-breaking research relating to MicroLED technologies. Since then, Oculus and parent company Facebook have begun recruiting electrical engineers and ‘III-V materials’ researchers (photonics & semiconductors) in Cork ahead of establishing a Virtual Reality Technology Centre.
I also asked Scoble to speak about the differences between ‘Augmented Reality’ and ‘Mixed Reality’ – as individuals took to twitter during the conference on the very issue. For many, it can become very confusing when different speakers adopt varying philosophical perspectives and stances on the two.
Prompting him about Meron Gribetz – CEO of META and an advocate of the distinction between the two (VR/AR) – Scoble said:
“He (Meron) wants to make sure we don’t go down the path of where that Japanese video was where it’s a garish world with lots of ads and things coming out of the walls. We’re going to do some of that. He’s trying to set a philosophy that ‘hey my system is here for working, and for playing, and it’s not going to about putting lots of ads everywhere.”
“I use Mixed-Reality as a term for this new industry, even though it’s Augmented-Reality. Its next generation Augmented-Reality. The problem is, the term Augmented Reality has baggage… I mean Snapchat does Augmented-Reality on your face, but what’s coming is not that. Stuff will be on the table and you can walk around it and it’s locked to the table, and there’s stuff on the wall and you can walk around it and it’s locked to the wall. That’s something different then what we had in AR worlds like from Metaio over the last decade, so I’m using mixed reality partly because Microsoft is using it and they’re the ones who brought Hololens to market first… but it’s semantics, it’s stupid arguing.”
Other topics that arose during our conversation included ‘bad actors in virtual spaces’, ‘the 4th generation of user-interfaces’, ‘mass-marketplace disruption’, ‘how companies need to change their behaviour’ and ‘the role of Sound in the VR experience’ – all topics which are imperative in the successful evolution of field. On that note, it is also important to recognise the increasingly vital role of ‘augmented sound’ in attaining optimal levels of immersion, as presently, the incorporation of emotive music occupies the space where current capabilities surrounding the recreation of natural ambient noise falls short, e.g., The Apollo 11 VR Experience. Be sure to check out my article Music in VR – Balancing Information and Emotion for more on the issue.
So what can we expect in the future?
As the price of headsets fall, and the number of applications increase, it appears the sky’s the limit for VR and AR – in this reality, and the next.