Workspace Technology Update: The Future of Virtual Reality

The concept of a virtual environment isn't new, but with consumer VR becoming more prominent this year, what is the future of virtual reality?


The concept of a virtual environment isn’t new, but with consumer VR becoming more prominent this year, what is the future of virtual reality?

We’re interested in VR because the opportunities it presents for the future of work are important, as VR will enhance our experience of interacting with people, our colleagues, and our work environment. Future workspaces are a part of WNDYR that we’re developing with our threefold approach to work (humans, technology and space), so we’re always excited to learn more about developments in virtual reality technology.

In a recent keynote address, Michael Abrash from Oculus spoke about the future of virtual reality, but first, he spoke about his background in programming and how he came to work in designing virtual experiences. For him, it was about pursuing something that was fulfilling, and part of his definition of work, which he feels needs to have a meaningful narrative and address the question: what do I need to do to make this a life well spent?

In Abrash’s view, searching for a meaningful narrative was not buying into the myth of technological inevitability, or thinking that because new and amazing technology is possible that it will eventually just happen. The truth is we need to work hard to create these technologies ourselves.

In his keynote address, after explaining his background and why he’s so passionate about virtual reality and the experiential possibilities it will create for the future, Abrash gave his predictions for the next 5 years in virtual reality developments. Here is a summary of his key points:

The Future of Virtual Reality #1: PC will offer the most comprehensive VR experience (for a while)

While things will certainly change as technology and processing capacity develops and improves, for the next 5 years a PC will offer the most comprehensive VR experience, because currently, with limitations in bandwidth and processing capability, VR isn’t going to be as good on mobile as we’d like, at least not yet.

The Future of Virtual Reality #2: Visually, there’s still a long way to go

Virtual reality has improved considerably, but if we compare the visual capability of current VR technologies and the capabilities of the human eye with regards to resolution, pixel density and field of view, we’ve still got a long way to go to being on par with what humans of capable of seeing.

Optics technology therefore needs to improve to offer better image quality, but it’s a challenge because image rendering doesn’t happen in VR the way it happens in our eyes and our brains. At the moment, we’re having to sacrifice image quality for a wider field of view, and investigate different types of displays for improved optic performance.

It’s all about creating a comfortable experience, and one that feels most like what we experience as we go through our daily lives. To compensate for lower image quality, Abrash says that foveated rendering will become a core technology.

Foveated rendering is ability to render images of better quality for exactly what the eye is seeing, with a higher resolution focused on your fovea (the part of your eye which provides sharp focused vision), instead of generating high image quality for everything in the given depth of field (which is bandwidth and processing intensive).  To do this though, VR technology needs to have better eye tracking, but again, this is a challenge because all eyes are different.

The Future of Virtual Reality #3: It all needs to feel natural

For virtual reality to be effective, every part of the experience needs to mimic a natural experience, from what you’re seeing to how you’re experiencing sound around you. It’s a balance between perception and interaction, and involves everything from the way graphics are processed to HRTS, which is the way sound is experienced through the movement of soundwaves (for example, the way you experience sound in a certain space).

We’re currently using connected devices that we direct with our hands, but in the future, hand gestures could be used for simple instructions, which will eventually lead to hands being direct manipulators through touch, without the use of avatar hands.

With the reduced weight of VR, and with future wireless technology, we will have more freedom of movement to experience VR, which will require increased bandwidth capacity, and will eventually lead to what Abrash calls the VR of the future, which is mixed reality or augmented VR.

The Future of Virtual Reality #4: Recreating environments will lead to recreating humans

Virtual reality, as we’ve discussed above, is all about taking environments and translating them into a virtual space, with all of the idiosyncrasies that come with them, from the way sound moves in a room and the way that we are able to visually experience an environment.

The next level in VR design is creating humans to engage with in this space, which is a pretty much impossible undertaking, considering the complexity of human expression and emotion, and perhaps the fact that we don’t even really understand ourselves, so how could we recreate ourselves?

This presents an interesting challenge to the future of virtual reality, as it forces us to really think about the way we think and do things, similarly to the way we’re having to really try to understand how our own human intelligence works in order to really create artificial intelligence.

With all of the subtleties in tone, facial and eye movements and everything else that we take for granted as part of human communication and experience, it is going to be interesting to see how people will have to learn even more about how we interact to create human avatars that will feel natural to engage with.

The Future of Virtual Reality #5: VR applications are highly suited to the future workplace

Imagine having a whiteboard session where you could meet with everyone on your team from all over the world, in a virtual space?

This will require a wider field of view, and all of the improvements in optics and processing discussed above, but with this kind of functionality in place, company communication could evolve to the point where interacting with team members in a virtual space could almost feel the same as engaging with them in person.

Almost. We’ll have to wait and see!

Watch the video below to learn more:

 

 

What are your thoughts on VR? Have you tried any mind-blowing applications in the virtual realm? Let us know in the comments below.

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