The concept of virtual reality is nothing new. The ideas and concepts governing virtual reality go back decades. In the 90s, both Sega and Nintendo sought to build virtual reality devices for gaming. However, these ventures fell flat; the cost of production ended up being too high and the technology hadn’t yet matured to a stage where consumers could use these devices for gaming for long periods of time. Common complaints were eye fatigue and feelings of nausea and disorientation after only about 10-20 minutes of use. Soon after, many of the big gaming companies simply abandoned virtual reality altogether.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that a new push for making a viable and successful consumer-level virtual reality device was undertaken. After Palmer Luckey’s success with Oculus, many of the heavy-hitters in the tech industry took notice and began making plans to enter the field. Virtual Reality at that time was still a very novel concept to many. However, after Oculus took off, others began making inroads into virtual reality, including Google with Google Cardboard, and Samsung with Gear VR.
In addition, side by side with virtual reality, came the rise of augmented reality. The difference between the two is that while virtual reality seeks to completely alter the user’s sense of reality inside a space that is totally different from the actual world, augmented reality merely adds or alters pieces of the real world – it “overlays” objects while still allowing the user to see and interact with the real world. Google’s first foray into augmented reality was with their Google Glass. Its release generated some buzz but ultimately was not nearly as successful or profitable as Google had hoped. At present, Microsoft is developing their own augmented reality HMD (head-mounted display), called Hololens. Although Microsoft has yet to promise a release date, it has already generated considerable attention from tech enthusiasts and tech media alike.
The above video is a demonstration of Impression Pi, a VR + AR headset from uSens, Inc., a Silicon-Valley start-up, who hope to build one of the first consumer-level VR + AR headsets. The most remarkable aspect of Impression Pi is its position tracking and 3D hand/gesture tracking abilities which allow the user to have a deeply immersive and interactive experience in both AR and VR applications. Impression Pi is set to launch in November of this year.
I believe that virtual reality has a real shot of becoming a highly successful industry within the technology sector this time around. Unlike previous attempts, this time, a considerable number of major tech companies have thrown their hat into the VR and AR ring, bringing with them considerable resources and experience to bear. With the advent of smartphones, virtual reality and augmented reality headsets seem like the naturally progression of tech devices. However, we’ll have to wait and see whether virtual reality and augmented reality will flourish as an industry this time around.