Augmented Reality at E3
By Jim Lundy
Last week, thousands of journalists and game enthusiasts spent their time in the Los Angeles convention center at the 2015 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). For those who do not follow the world of gaming very closely, E3 is a conference that happens every year, where developers release news and trailers about the games they will be releasing in the coming year.
However, E3 also has a bit of a technology side. Gaming and technology go hand in hand, and the gaming market drives certain sectors of the tech industry forwards. One example of this is virtual reality (VR).
VR vs. AR
Virtual reality is exactly what it sounds like. You put on an immersive headset, and you feel like you are in another world. For the past few years, several firms have been in a race to produce consumer versions of virtual reality headsets.
Thanks to advances in VR tech, Microsoft has built an augmented reality (AR) headset. The difference between the two is that VR only shows you one realm, the virtual one. If you are playing a game, that is all you see. You don’t see your living room, because the game immerses you in its vision and sound. AR is different. In an augmented reality, you can see things from both the physical realm and the virtual realm.
While I feel VR doesn’t have a whole lot of business application, AR is completely different. Microsoft’s Hololens, their AR headset, lets you see “holograms” that you can interact with. Don’t have a TV but own a Hololens? You can stick a TV app up on your wall, and whenever you look at the wall, you can watch TV. You can even have it follow you around, if you want. Pretty cool, right?
Business Applications, Down the Line
Now, not everything dealing with AR and VR is complete, and the technology is still very new, so take everything I am about to say with a grain of salt. Based on what I have seen of the Hololens, it might be possible to have something like a whiteboard app. Stick it on your wall, write stuff down, basic whiteboard stuff. But combine it with cloud computing, and suddenly it’s a whole new game.
Imagine for a second that you are a mechanical engineer, working for some multinational company. You need to collaborate with four colleagues who are in four different countries on a project. Conventionally, you could set up web conferencing, or a conference call. But think with AR for a second. What if, with the power of cloud computing, you could all look at and interact with the same whiteboard. It works similarly to Google Docs. One person creates “the whiteboard,” and everyone else has the ability to interact and add to it. Suddenly, all five of you are looking at and writing on the same whiteboard, as if you were all in the room together.
Getting Ahead of Ourselves
Now, the tech isn’t there yet. As more reports come out of E3, a glaring problem for the Hololens has emerged: It has a very limited window of space in which it can project. Much like the Nintendo 3DS, there is a “sweet spot” where you can see projections, and spots where you cannot. The sweet spot for the Hololens is about the size of a large TV on a wall. A decent size chunk, to be sure, but it’s definitely not ideal, particularly if you are moving around a lot.
Despite this, NASA is currently collaborating with Microsoft on “Project Sidekick.” They plan to send two headsets to the International Space Station (ISS) to aid both astronauts and ground control. The Hololens will allow the ground operators to see what the astronauts see in real-time via Skype. Ground operations can also place animated holograms over real objects the crew is interacting with.
Obviously, there will be flaws. This is the first iteration of a new wave of technology, one that could potentially change the world. There is still plenty of time to perfect it though. The Hololens doesn’t even have a release date yet, which suggests it will not be released anytime in 2015, so Microsoft still has plenty of time to try and iron out the issues with it. But all issues aside, this is a seriously cool piece of technology, and I eagerly await the next update for it.