When Facebook acquired Oculus Rift for $2 billion, it woke people up to the real business value in virtual reality and holography.
And while most people think "gaming" when they think virtual reality, the advances in this technology could impact how we collaborate today and in the future.
Companies to Watch
Magic Leap, a Dania Beach, Fla.-based startup company is working on head-mounted devices which superimpose 3D computer-generated imagery over real world objects by projecting a digital light field into the user's eye. Magic Leap is backed by Google. Fove is working on another virtual reality headset, this one controlled by eye movements. I saw a similar type of 3D headset from LG at a Pepcom event a few weeks ago. With this one — which also uses eye tracking technology — you clicked a button on the side of the headset when the right icon came up in your field of view to have it implement the icon.
Microsoft’s HoloLens project also has been making headlines. Microsoft HoloLens is a head-mounted, holographic computer that provides a mixed-reality experience for a range of commercial and consumer applications (see picture below). Trimble is already working with Hololens on the Windows 10 platform, where it is intended to improve the quality, collaboration and efficiency in the design, construction and operation of buildings and structures.
During the Build Conference keynote session, Alex Kipman, technical fellow at Microsoft's Operating System Group, demonstrated how the integration of HoloLens with Trimble's SketchUp 3D modeling software and the Trimble Connect collaboration platform could improve design and construction processes. Using HoloLens, architects could experience their SketchUp models as holograms placed in the real world — enabling them to quickly analyze various "what if" design scenarios in the context of the physical environment.
Kipman also illustrated how remote teams can use Trimble Connect with HoloLens to effectively review and collaborate in real time to resolve constructability issues. You can see a recording of this demonstration here and find more information about the project here.
Trimble is connecting the HoloLens to its Trimble Connect collaboration software, a collaboration environment for design, engineering and construction projects, based on Gehry Technologies GTeam software acquired by Trimble in 2014. Trimble Connect enables teams to access and manage project data via a cloud platform.
Unity Technologies is also integrating with HoloLens. Unity is widely used in the game development space, powering games like Ori and the Blind Forest, Monument Valley, Deus Ex: The Fall, and a host of others. However, it is not exclusive to games, as the company's development showcase lists architectural and marketing scenarios as well.
A Growing Industry
3D gaming is a natural fit for this technology. But it could just as easily apply to a distributed project team working on the development of a new (physical) product.
Google has also tried a number of experiments in this area, the most famous being Google Glass (figure above), since deemed a failure, and is no longer being sold or supported by Google.
However, Google Cardboard brings immersive experiences to everyone in a simple and affordable way. Google has open sourced the software and a number of vendors make the cardboard viewer (some out of actual cardboard) for a nominal price. You can build one yourself using a few things from your local hardware store (cardboard, lenses, magnets, velcro and a rubber band). A number of apps have been developed for this viewer, and not surprisingly, it also works with Android phones.
One of the Cardboard apps is Sir Paul Mccartney performing “Live and Let Die” in 360 degrees with stereo 3D and immersive audio. This is the first publicly released cinematic VR experience by Jaunt, which provides a toolset for creating cinematic virtual reality content. This and other VR apps are available in the GooglePlay store. This is more of a broadcast model for VR, but think if all of these different headsets connected? You could have viewing parties with your friends, or a collaborative VR design session with your team for a new product.
According to Digi-Capital, the augmented reality market is projected to generate $120 billion in revenue, compared to just $30 billion for the virtual reality market. Tim Merel, managing director of Digi-Capital, believes both the AR and VR markets will become mainstream by 2020. Although collaborative holography is not here yet, my guess is that it is not far away. Given the investment in this technology, we could expect to see some early commercial products within the next year.