In 2016, I had the pleasure of testing the Microsoft HoloLens courtesy of Oregon Story Board. To begin, I pinched my fingers together and placed a ballerina on the desk in front of me. With a swipe of my hand, the little ballerina disappeared and the office transformed into Rome. I was fully immersed in a tour of the Colosseum before the floor began to lower beneath me and I was transported hundreds of feet below the ancient city to tour the ruins below. In the next session, the real-world office I was familiar with returned but the walls began to crack and the room was infiltrated by alien robots that I shot with my laser gun in an action-packed mixed reality game. Needless to say, I’ve been a major “mixed reality” fangirl ever since.
To kickoff a short series on exploring industrial applications for immersive reality technology (IRT), I wanted to outline some of the reasons why we, at Olio Apps, are excited about IRT and why you probably should be too. First, let’s start with some definitions. Because the technology is relatively new and rapidly evolving, a lot of the terms explaining this technology are also in flux. To clarify, I’ll be using these terms to refer to IRT.
Virtual Reality (VR) - Perhaps the oldest and most popular term to explain IRT. This refers to an opaque headset with a screen. The audio and video input from the screen replace your natural surroundings.
Mixed Reality (MR) - Like the hololens I described earlier, this is a wearable headset that overlays data, like a holograph, onto your view of the natural world.
Augmented Reality (AR) - Like Pokemon Go or Snapchat filters, this refers to a non-wearable screen that captures a snippet of the natural world and overlays data or distorts it.
Immersive Reality Technology - A blanket term that I (and other people) use that encompasses virtual reality, mixed reality, 360 video, and sometimes augmented reality.
In the past view years, immersive reality has fully emerged out the the realm of being “future tech” and is rapidly becoming more and more commercially viable and accessible. Many industries currently take advantage of this technology, but there is still a lot of room for growth. Immersive reality has some exciting advantages over traditional media as a way to see, experience, learn, and share. Here are a few of the reasons we’re geeking out over IRT.
Immersive reality makes shared experiences personal
First, the literally in-your-face nature of immersive reality creates an environment that, while perhaps shared by thousands of others, is uniquely yours. Though the quality of the experience can vary from device to device, almost every VR or MR experience provides significantly more material than viewing a static image or watching traditional video. The experience allows you to focus on the details you want to and create your own experience and your own emotional response. This feature makes makes VR excellent for learning and skill sharing.
Despite some (sometimes significant) upfront cost of creating an immersive reality experience, it can actually be highly cost effective. Unlike traditional video footage, immersive reality is primarily CGI (computer-generated imagery), i.e code, which makes creating IRT experiences more iterable, adjustable, and reusable over time even as things change.
The astronauts at NASA are already understanding the value of technology like the hololens for training, simulated missions, and virtual assistance. Thanks to IRT, the environments of Mars and the international space station can be recreated at home for a fraction of the cost. Then, those virtual environments can be altered for an infinite number of simulations with no threat of deprecation.
In addition to being cost effective, immersive reality technology allows users to experience high-risk situations relatively safely. Consider the astronauts from the previous example, or firefighters, who routinely train for dangerous scenarios. Using IRT allows these high-risk training simulations to be both realistic and completely harmless. Similarly, psychologists are starting to use IRT to help their patients face their phobias. The virtual environment created by the immersive headset allows the user to confront their fears in a safe and controlled space.
Creates low distraction environment
The next exciting benefit of this technology is its ability to completely cut out distractions. The headsets create an environment that demands the users full attention and keeps them engaged on the task at hand. This feature makes immersive reality an excellent tool for focusing, learning, and even meditating.
Consider the dilemma of modern education. Class sizes are too large, sometimes 300 students in a lecture hall or a thousand students in an online classroom. This results in a number of issues, primarily that there are too many distractions and it becomes hard for students to stay focused. Now imagine a VR classroom with thousands of students, where each individual student receives a personal experience, free of distraction. Immersive reality technology could hold an interesting solution to improving both the quality and quantity of education.
Immersive reality tech is awesome
Finally, I think Immersive Reality is exciting because it’s new and fun. The novelty of IRT encourages a lot of creativity and gives us a new way to learn, play, interact, and share. The limitations on what you can experience and create start to fall away when you have access to this technology and there is so much potential yet to be tapped. Much like the revolution that came along with the introduction of mobile technology, which allowed us to access information from almost anywhere, immersive reality technology allows us access to different environments and experiences from almost anywhere.
The gaming industry was quick to catch on to immersive reality, but IRT is emerging in industries across the board. At Olio Apps, we’re looking forward to seeing what comes next as immersive reality continues to develop. Stay tuned to our blog for future posts about immersive reality technology and how to get started with developing virtual reality and mixed reality software.