Future of Virtual Reality – virtuality becomes real
In this article I’m going to discuss main advantages of futuristic solutions that are Virtual Reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) and their perspectives. In fact, they have been facing technical limitations for more than a decade. And until recently in the different workstations these technologies were represented mainly by experimental solutions. Meanwhile, they are increasingly being used in the entertainment industry. The world market of virtual reality is developing. Its leading players offer more VR-options for PCs, virtual reality helmets and so on.
With the availability of more and more VR equipment and the development of software, the AR / VR system creators are opening up huge opportunities. Accordingly, the demand is growing. Commercial products for professionals are also beginning to appear.
VR / AR is a collective concept, combining many related and unrelated technologies, so it’s more appropriate to talk about different markets, vertical applications and VR / AR application scenarios.
What is virtual reality?
Wikipedia defines it as a world created by technical mean, conveyed to a person through his senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch, and others. Virtual reality simulates both impact and response to the impact. To create a convincing complex of sensations of reality, a computer synthesis of the properties and reactions of VR is performed in real time.
Augmented reality, unlike virtual reality, is a combination of real objects and virtual reality. AR allows to place virtual text or image on top of objects from the real world that person observes (usually via mobile devices). Virtual objects can be superimposed on the selected real objects, and, usually, are directly related to the object in the real world.
Basically, it means that augmented reality combines various information, but its basis is physical reality – what the user actually sees. AR helps to get useful information about the location and objects, allows you to interact with virtual content in the real world. At the same time, AR users are able to distinguish virtual content from a real object, and can also turn on and off selected AR functions that can be associated with certain objects.
If in a virtual reality the device completely immerses the user in the world created by the developers, which is difficult to distinguish from the real one, then the devices of the augmented reality only change the picture of the world visible to the user in some way.
In particular, there are many solutions for smartphones that allow you to get the necessary information about the environment with the help of augmented reality. For example, back in 2010, AlterGeo released an application with augmented reality for the iPhone. The product allowed to see through the camera of the smartphone, in which direction and at what distance from the user are the city attractions and institutions. For constant contact with the augmented reality environment, some solutions in this area are embodied in the form of glasses.
It is possible that the announcement of augmented reality glasses from Apple may take place in the fall simultaneously with the new iPhone 8 or during the opening of the campus of the “apple” corporation in Cupertino. According to the developers of Apple, as well as the CEO Tim Cook, in the future, consumer demand will be augmented, not virtual reality.
Although virtual and augmented reality are very different technically, they are often referred to together. In both cases, this is a completely new experience for the user, but in augmented reality, it remains in contact with the physical world and interacts with virtual objects while in virtual reality it is in a completely modeled space. At the same time, these technologies can complement each other, they use similar development tools, 3D modeling engines.
Not so much sales volumes of VR / AR products are important, but how much this new reality influences the “market trajectory”. Many well-known brands in the IT market are now working in this area, including Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Sony, Samsung and a number of others.
Thanks to the development of computer games, the consumerization of VR has occurred. Devices and virtual reality software became available to consumers, there were many startups offering all sorts of products. VR / AR applications are rapidly developing, primarily on mobile platforms. However, for the time being, for the high-quality work of the VR-application, it is still preferable that the VR helmet is connected to a powerful stationary computer. Over time, this limitation can be managed.
In order for AR technologies to become capable of winning a mass audience, a device is needed that can become a hit of sales; Battery for a full day of battery life; Mobile networks; Application ecosystem; Participation of telecom companies.
It is not easy to solve these tasks, but it is already obvious that the future of many spheres of entertainment is somehow connected with the use of technologies of augmented or virtual realities. In the meantime, VR / AR technologies already find wide enough practical application in addition to the entertainment industry.
VR / AR in practice
The technology market for virtual and augmented realities is just beginning to evolve. It is still difficult to say in which directions it will continue to grow. Experts are sure that it won’t be only movies and video games. That the AR / VR sphere will also spread to many other segments. So far, the most promising areas of AR / VR are mobile platforms, where is large number of potential users, and highly specialized solutions.
Meanwhile, there are many practical examples already. Virtual reality has been used for a long time and successfully used to train professions where the operation of real devices and mechanisms is associated with increased risk or is associated with high costs (pilot of an airplane, train driver, dispatcher, driver, mine rescuer, etc.).
Augmented reality is gradually being introduced into the general educational process. For example, some American universities have agreed to introduce the technology of augmented reality from Microsoft to educate students.
To the designer these technologies give a real opportunity to try out various concepts – to examine them in detail and choose the best one. In NASA, virtual reality technology was used to develop a helicopter design, and Boeing used them to create the latest model of the aircraft.
In medicine, attempts are being made to use VR technologies to analyze images and treat various phobias. It is assumed that the use of this practice will allow patients to overcome their fears over time. Therapy in the virtual space requires only the availability of the equipment itself. You can gradually increase the level of stressful situation.
Interesting prospects open on the Internet-trade: the buyer will be able to test all the functions of the product, touch or try it on. Such virtual stores are considered as a potential replacement for real boutiques or salons.
The media are already using virtual reality technologies in their reports, in coverage of events. Some experts believe that virtual space is the ideal medium for broadcasting news publications.
Representatives of Microsoft predict the replacement of the usual monitors with virtual and augmented reality systems. The user won’t need to sit for hours in front of the screen. All the necessary control functions will be located directly in front of him.
Microsoft devices (HoloLens) and Meta have the function of making calls in the virtual space. Other person’s image appears right in front of the user. This technology will simplify the process of communication, conduction of business meetings, online trainings and events.
VR and workstations
It won’t take that much time for the development of such technologies. In the near future, the technology of augmented and virtual reality will have an impact on any business, according to analysts at Gartner.
Manufacturers of workstations are actively preparing for this. In 2017, VR and AR systems may appear, oriented not only to the education market and entertainment industry, but also to methods of computer design and modeling, content creation. When these platforms become more mature, that is, in the middle or at the end of 2017, VR workstations will start appearing on the market in an increasing number.
New workstations with virtual reality support (VR-Ready) combine high-performance processor, memory and graphics for optimal viewing of VR, have special graphics drivers and are tested for compatibility with VR helmets and software products.
NVIDIA actively works with vendors to bring to the market professional workstations “NVIDIA VR Ready”. These models with NVIDIA-recommended configurations meet the requirements for working with VR-content, allow working with the VRWorks package, including tools and technologies for application developers.
Professional mobile workstations NVIDIA VR Ready allow designers, engineers and other professionals to run VR projects anywhere, which speeds up work on the project and improves its quality. You can train remote employees, immersing them in the workflow, visualizing concepts and models, giving customers the opportunity to walk among virtual buildings.
VR can lead to revolutionary changes in the architecture of workstations and the ways they are used. For example, the development of the company 8Ninths is designed to complement the traditional tools of the trader. 8Ninths created its own design patterns and language to learn how to use HoloLens glasses from Microsoft to convert 2D data to 3D holography. This is how the Holographic Workstation was born, which optimizes the trader’s work on data interaction in a multi-tier system. This allows you to quickly delve into the essence of the data and accurately process it.
Through the HoloLens glasses, a trader can monitor the financial market, the indicators of which are presented in the form of “floating” colored objects in space – their value depends on trading activity. Holographic Workstation can work with existing financial applications. This principle developers intend to apply in the near future in solutions for other industries.
Epic is going to introduce VR functionality into a future version of the editor that is used to create games based on Unreal Engine 4. By connecting a virtual reality helmet to the workstation, the developer can see the game scene the same as the players will see it, and in order to use the tool window, it will be enough to just turn the head.
It can be expected that new technologies will be even more widely used in the segment of household PCs. Microsoft announced that in 2017, Windows 10 will receive the Windows Holographic shell. The shell API will allow you to use applications adapted for this purpose along with standard programs in 3D-interface mode. Virtual reality is not just the beginning of a new stage in the development of the entertainment industry. It becomes a big, serious business, opens up new opportunities for professionals.
Hardware and software aspects of AR / VR
One of the obstacles in the way of virtual reality is the high cost of devices. This year may become a turning point, as many companies work on their cheapening. In addition, bulky and imposing a number of other limitations VR-gadgets continue to decrease in size. Along with this, the number of augmented reality devices is growing in the market.
For application developers, this may mean that serious efforts and skills will be required: the development of virtual software must combine design skills in 2D and in 3D. You will need to design interfaces that work uniformly both in the virtual environment and outside of it. This is a serious problem in terms of application architecture. Another unsolved problem is the setup of VR-type elements such as position tracking sensors for fixing head and eye movements, for managing applications.
The task of writing applications is complicated by the binding to proprietary software and hardware of a particular VR-device. Standardizing of hardware specifications will help to simplify it.
Along with hardware platforms, software tools are being improved. For example, PTC released the corporate tool Vuforia Studio Enterprise for the development of AR-applications. Known earlier under the code name Project ThingX, the package Vuforia Studio Enterprise is now offered under the Vuforia Studio Pilot Program. It is integrated with the visualization software PTC Creo 3D CAD and the ThingWorx Internet of Things (IoT) platform to add elements of augmented reality to “connected things”.
As the developers say, Vuforia Studio Enterprise does not require programming knowledge and allows you to create applications of augmented reality without deep knowledge in this area.
The PTC believes that the introduction of augmented reality in enterprises is hindered by the lack of tools for preparing and creating content. Vuforia Studio software is precisely aimed at solving this problem.
Developers can experience this innovative technology through the ThingWorx Studio pilot program: create an augmented reality industrial environment that allows you to develop projects to justify a concept, create augmented reality environments in a simple, non-programming environment based on drag and drop, and use existing content through integration of 3D CAD models, corporate data systems, text instructions and sensor data in real time.
The developed environment can be quickly published for iOS and Android devices. To get acquainted with the augmented reality, you can install one of the special browsers on your mobile device, which allow you to see digital content that complements the physical world. Such browsers are known for a long time – one of the first was Junaio from Metaio, which was later acquired by Apple.
For example, the popular reimplemented reality browser Layar is designed to revitalize static pages of newspapers and magazines, billboards, booklets and other printed products. In addition to browsers, there are more and more applications of augmented reality.
In such solutions, models of searching and localizing special points of real-world objects are usually used, in turn, these models are “trained” on high-performance equipment – this requires a huge amount of data. Methods of classification of images, search and localization of objects, semantic segmentation are applied. Different methods have been developed for training classifiers.
The main modern approach to detecting objects in a scene is the recognition by a set of selected features. HOG, Edgelet, and a group of local template methods (Local Binary Patterns, LBP, Local Ternary Patterns, LTP, Scale Invariant LBP, SILBP, Scale Invariant LTP, SILTP) are mostly used. The method, in which histogram of Oriented Gradients (HOG) is used, is based on the outline of the object and the construction of gradients, which makes it possible to distinguish one object from other objects. Edgelet is designed specifically for detecting objects: with the help of filters an object contour is constructed, a histogram-oriented gradient is extracted from this contour, then the histograms are normalized and used to create a vector of features.
However, HOG works poorly in different scenes. In this situation, help comes from a three-dimensional markup of the scene with segmentation, helping to identify objects in specific areas. Improving the quality of HOG can be achieved by “training” the recognition system – for example, recognizing a person by parts of the body (arms, legs, trunk, head), which reduces the number of false positives.
In methods based on Edgelet (Edgelet – a segment of a straight line or a curve of a line) is used training technique which is recognizing people by the shoulder girdle and trunk. Egglets 4-12 pixels in size – straight lines, arcs of circles, symmetrical segments of straight lines and symmetric arcs of circles – are compared with the contours in the image. With proper training, good recognition results are provided. To improve accuracy, a modification of the LBP-based edgelet is used, which makes it possible to extend the feature vector. As a result, the probability of recognizing a person by his shoulder girdle increases by 20-25%. These methods continue to improve.
Both virtual reality and augmented reality have been actively developing recently. It can be said that VR / AR technologies will have a serious impact on how business tasks are solved. Technologies of virtual and augmented reality have already emerged from the rudimentary state, but the most interesting lies ahead.