The Oculus Rift and the future of Augmented Reality
The recent purchase of the Oculus Rift by Facebook put the immersive technologies in the forefront of the news. This post will help you understand what exactly is the augmented reality and what is at stakes with this kind of technology.
What is augmented reality?
A reality-augmented system is a system that enables the superposition of a 3D or 2D virtual model to the perception we naturally have of reality, in real time. This system can apply for the visual perception as well as for tactile or auditory perceptions. In short, augmented reality “adds a layer of information on top of everything in front of your eyes”
How does it work?
The hardest part of the process is to locate the real elements in the virtual world while keeping the same point of view.
There are different ways to do it :
1- By using tags that will allow the calculation of 3D coordinates.
2- By combining those tags with the geolocalisation of a mobile phone’s GPS for instance. This way, some mobile apps can add information on the scene filmed by the camera according to the position determined by the GPS.
3- Some reality augmented programs are able to recognise forms, places or faces. They allow an augmented vision without the need of any tag.
The second difficulty consists in finding a way to display the result. As for smartphones or computers there is no problem since they have screens but for other applications, more technical, the user will need an immersive cube, a helmet or glasses equipped with camera. Those are currently very expensive to implement and require development to make them light and discreet. The best display we could imagine would be the use of lens equipped with nanotechnologies that would display the pictures directly in front of the eyes.
A variant: the Diminished Reality
As the name suggests, diminished reality consists in removing real content from a video stream. The disappearance is very quick, only some milliseconds: the user encircles an object on his screen, then the software will degrade the selected zone and use the surrounding environment to rebuilt a texture.
This technology could be useful for movie production, to help erase the editing glitches or to help protect people’s private life in a video (ex: Google Street View). Watch the video here.
What actual applications?
Immersive technologies are becoming more mainstream and are likely to pervade other industries. We find them in diverse area like art, video games, entertainment, education, medicine. Here are some examples of what currently exists:
Zugara, the webcam social shopping
Zucara is a communication agency that created an app mixing augmented reality and movement capture. They propose online shoppers to try clothes virtually. To do so, you simply need to print a tag, put it in front of you and the cloth you chose will fit to your morphology. You can also take a picture of it and share it on Facebook.
Vincennes castle allowed visitors to discover a part of the Castle exactly the way it was at the time. The room had first been entirely digitised and then everything was recreated with the exact proportions. About forty tags were positioned on the walls, allowing the console to know where it was and what it should show.
Lego digital box
Lego set up their digital box: digital reality augmented terminals where people can observe their toy in greatest details without opening the box.
The oculus rift
The oculus rift is a virtual-reality headset developed by Oculus, a company founded by Palmer Luckey. The 21 year old founder decided to launch his own company after trying every VR headset he could find and not being satisfied with any of them.
The company started in 2012 with a Kickstarter campaign that exceeded all the expectations: they surpassed their original funding goal of $250,000 nearly 10 times over with $2.4 million. Over the past two years, Oculus has since raised more than $90 million in venture funding.
According to those who had the chance to try the headset, the experience is impossible to describe. The device makes you feel completely immersed in the virtual environment. The lucky owners of one of the 75,000 developer kits ordered can for instance already use it to enter the world of Game of Thrones.
Other company launched their owned VR headset, like Sony and the Morpheus project for its new PlayStation 4 gaming console.
Why Facebook bought it and what does the company plan to do with it in the future?
Facebook bought the company for $2 billions ($400 million in cash and $1.6 billion in Facebook stock, as well as an additional $300 million if Oculus meets certain performance targets). However, the company will keep operating independently. For those who think that this partnership seems odd, the Oculus team assured that both company bear similar goals in mind: “innovating and hiring the best and brightest” as well as to contribute to “a more open, connected world”
According to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook does not plan to restrict the technology to video games. Indeed, with this new acquisition, Facebook bets that in the future people will want to be fully immersed in technology and that after desktop computers and mobile devices, “vision is going to be the next really big platform.”
After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.
This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.
These are just some of the potential uses. By working with developers and partners across the industry, together we can build many more. One day, we believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people.
What future applications can we imagine?
The video named “The infinity Augmented Reality Concept” is a good overview of what we could expect about the future applications of the AR. The video shows us a world where our vision would be constantly accompanied by the AR to facilitate the everyday life. Infinity Augmented Reality, the company who developed the video believes that their “platform will soon be available to connect with intelligent information and responses intertwined with pinpoint relevance and revolutionary human understanding” bringing you “real and apt human centred experiences powered by a toolbox that is an extension of yourself and your reality”.
Could augmented reality present some threats?
Like any technological progress, it comes with some potential threats and excesses
The combination of facial recognition technology, geo-location and augmented data will lead to our online and offline lives being merged together. Anybody walking in the physical world could be identifiable and connected to their digital profile (containing potentially sensitive information such as political preferences, income, religion,…).
2. Social detachment
A consequence of the first point is the potential social detachment that could lead you to pay less attention to the world around you. Moreover, because of the possibility to know someone before even talking to him, normal channels of human interaction will be deeply changed.
3. Advertisement invasion
Augmented reality is a windfall for the advertising world. Everything could be turned into a potential advertising space. We would be submitted to contextual advertising based on what we are looking. For example, when looking at a product, some recommendations for other similar products or information about where to buy this product could pop up in front of your eyes without asking for anything.
Billboards would be transformed into blank canvases and different adverts would be pushed according to people’s profile. Therefore people would see a different, custom-designed reality based on their profile (age, gender, interest, income, …).
4. Augmented Bullying and Harassment
Bullying would be taken a step further with for instance the possibility, thanks to an app, to display a private picture of yourself alongside you while walking in the street, without even knowing it.