Virtual Reality and augmented reality, a new paradigm shift in publishing!

 In Opinions, Overviews, Technologies

To say that I was shocked is an understatement. My first experience of virtual reality changed my perception of what publishing now is and what publishing could become. The paradigm shift I observed in one evening will hugely impact the future of publishing. It will also have significant impacts on the development of technologies needed to support the associated tasks of content creation, content management and content delivery.

This experience changed my perception of what publishing now is and what publishing could become

The VR/AR Association is a global association set up to support the nascent Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality communities. The inaugural meeting of the UK chapter of the VR/AR Association took place earlier this week at Regent’s University in London, and I was very fortunate to attend this launch. In the UK, it is being spearheaded by Steve Dann from Amplified Robot, a company formed to explore how emerging technologies can be applied to creative workflow. Steve came from a high-end film and TV post-production background. VR/AR is an industry that is already growing exponentially, and whose projected global revenues over the next 5 years are eye opening.

ARE VIRTUAL REALITY AND AUGMENTED REALITY DISRUPTIVE TO THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY?

Whether you view VR/AR as a disruptive or complementary publishing medium will vary according to your own experiences of the technology and vision for how it could be used. VR and AR were new concepts to many of us in the room. The capabilities of these technologies were introduced to us through a series of videos demonstrating the wide range of early applications across a broad set of uses. These gave a fascinating insight into what is possible now and an equally exciting indication of where this is leading.

Throughout the demonstrations during the launch event, I was surprised by how many potential applications of the technology that I pictured in my own mind. I felt no threat to the publishing industry only significant opportunity.

WHAT ARE THE TARGET MARKETS FOR VIRTUAL REALITY AND AUGMENTED REALITY?

The direction of travel is already quite clear despite the industry still being very young. The early implementations are also resetting the boundaries of what can be achieved through a creative use of the technology.

Steve Dann shared the following target markets.

  • Space exploration – simulating life on Mars in 2030 to understand how we might react psychologically to this scenario
  • Surgical training – recording operations in 3D and then using these for training purposes for new surgeons, and giving the trainees a much better view of what’s happening and the situations that they might face during surgery
  • Military training – using simulations of combat scenarios to train soldiers to respond appropriately
  • Tourism – allowing individuals to visit sites where they’re not physically present
  • Film – allowing cinema-goers, the opportunity to view films interactively, for example seeing the action through the eyes of different characters in the film. The first VR cinema is now open in Amsterdam
  • Sport – recording sporting events using 360-degree cameras for subsequent coaching review
  • Crime scene investigation – allowing crime scenes to be recorded as they were found and then played back at a later date, which would also allow jurors to see these crime scenes as they were discovered
  • Therapy – allowing individuals recovering from strokes to regain their walking skills in a more natural environment like a virtual forest rather than a physiotherapy gym
  • Shopping – supporting a realistic virtual shopping experience when shopping online
  • Adult – introducing 360-degree interactions

School education was noticeably absent from the list, but a huge opportunity.

He also demonstrated a range of other therapeutic applications from the world of medicine. It was very clear how beneficial these could be:

  • Virtual teleportation for bed bound patients to help relieve their boredom by allowing them to experience different environments like underwater swimming, art studios and helicopter rides people in hospitals
  • Using VR simulations to relieve phantom limb pain
  • Allowing surgical teams doing brain surgery at UCLA to collectively walk through 3D virtual models of patient’s brains, built up from MRI and CAT scans, so that when they start their surgery, they recognised where they are within the brain

Although most of the evening discussed Virtual Reality, some examples of Augmented Reality were also demonstrated; think Google Glass. Using a smartphone, tablet or wearable device, it is now possible to blend virtual digital content with real-world imagery, adding a new dimension to your experience. An example of this might be a road worker being able to see a virtual and visual indication of where all of the utilities (power, water, sewerage, gas and electricity) are buried underground where they’re just about to dig up a road. Augmented Reality was described as the Tortoise to the Virtual Reality Hare.

DOES VIRTUAL REALITY AND AUGMENTED REALITY CHANGE OUR PERCEPTION?

Experiment to study the psychological impact of virtual reality
Photo credit: Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab

The answer is yes. Stanford University in California has established a Virtual Human Interaction Lab to study the psychology of virtual reality. One of the team’s examples is a simulation that they created of walking a virtual plank of wood across a floor. They then subsequently exposed a virtual 10m deep pit on either side of the plank and asked the individual to walk across the plank again. The impact on the individuals performing this task can be seen in the attached video (above link). The sensory feedback provided in the lab is significant. This is achieved through the use of surround sound, a vibrating floor and imagery that is refreshed into your headset 100 times per second in response to your own movements. The team has clearly shown that the brain, when receiving this sensory information, is ranking it much higher than its pre-existing knowledge of the room. A fascinating demonstration.

Virtuality, a company based in Hong Kong, is running a similar experiment to allow individuals walk a plank to rescue a distressed cat. The feelings of vertigo experienced are so realistic, that 25% of people refuse to the walk the plank and 50% of people try but fall off. Due to the realism, test participants have to be supported by an individual standing next to them due to their bodies natural response to the virtual scenario.

CAN THE REQUIRED SKILL SETS INDICATE THE NEW CONTENT TECHNOLOGY REQUIREMENTS?

In questioning Steve on the combination of skill sets he generally sees being needed to develop VR and AR products, it was clear that most of these skills are not standard publishing skills. The skills required were more closely aligned to the gaming industry and film and television industries than publishing. These ranged from programmers, visual artists, designers, and storyboarders, to 3D modellers and animators. Each role would require its own origination tools and would generate its own resultant output files, and versions of those files. These would all require specialised storage and delivery capabilities and tools to transform, merge or co-deliver files of different types.

It was also clear too that there would be a huge variety of data types required to deliver these immersive experiences and significant volumes of resultant data. This data would need to be able to be rendered and interacted with in real-time providing dynamic feedback to the user based on their own reactions to these experiences. With Augmented Reality too, it would require additional detailed geospatial data to be stored and then rendered as an overlay on the mobile device that was being used to view this content. This feedback would need to be based on the physical location of those devices and the direction in which they were being pointed and moved.

CONCLUSION

All in all, this launch event was a game changer for me. It exposed me to a new and exciting industry. Although this could be viewed as an extension to my own industry, albeit on the periphery, more realistically, it was a new industry being born. There are huge opportunities here limited only by our own imaginations of what could be achieved. If delivered, many of these opportunities will have significantly positive impacts in our lives.

I freely acknowledge that I only scratched the ‘surface of the surface’ in terms of understanding the content technology needs of this nascent industry. Undoubtedly, though, the new requirements will lead to the development of a whole new sector of content technologies. These will most likely be developed off the back of the technologies already used in the gaming industry, but there will be new technologies born too.

I look forward to finding out more about this industry.

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