Over the summer, I read the fantastic novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, a story of a recession-ridden future where the Internet and gaming culture have completely taken over the world’s consciousness. Nearly every aspect of society in Cline’s novel—school, shopping, work, gaming, socializing—takes place in a massive, virtual simulation dubbed the “OASIS.” The novel touched on two of my absolute favorite things: 80s pop culture (“Dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria!”) and the immersive possibilities of technology.
With technology in our pockets, on our desks, and soon to be on our wrists and even our faces, we’re constantly immersed in our own virtual worlds. This can be a bad thing; picture the stereotypical image of friends sitting together, all wordlessly tapping away at their smartphones instead of talking to one another. But I truly believe that immersive technology can transform our professional and personal lives. The immersive aspect of tech is a primary driver of our product designs for iMeet® and GlobalMeet®—technology that seamlessly connects you to the people and information that matter most, without getting in your way.
Believe it or not, the future of Cline’s OASIS may be closer than you think. Recent advances in virtual reality, wearable computing and other types of immersive tech have made the world of Ready Player One much more reality than fantasy. The trend towards wearable and immersive technology is poised to first transform our personal lives and entertainment, but business applications are never far behind.
Arguably the most famous example of wearable technology currently available, Google Glass is being piloted by a group dubbed “Explorers” who are field-testing one of the first mass-market wearables from a major technology player. Glass gives users access to a variety of notifications, apps, and “augmented reality” information (data overlaid on top of whatever you happen to be looking at) at eye-level, hoping to combat the social detachment that being constantly buried in our screens can cause.
Glass has a long way to go before it’s ready for the mainstream user, and in my opinion it’s still missing that “killer app” to drive mass-market adoption. But there’s no doubt that Google is poised to kick off an entirely new device category, much like Apple did for tablets with the iPad®. And the market researchers believe in Glass – analysts predict that Glass could be worth over $3 billion in as little as four years.
The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality, head-mounted display that raised over $1 million in Kickstarter funding in less than 36 hours, with $16 million in total funding to date. Currently aimed squarely at gamers, the Oculus VR team has designed an affordable, lightweight and powerful virtual reality headset that integrates easily with existing 3D rendering engines, not unlike the gear worn by the characters in Cline’s novel.
While the Oculus team is currently focused on immersive gaming, it’s not difficult to imagine other personal and even professional applications, from virtual workplace tours to truly immersive video conferencing.
Virtuix Omni Treadmill
A bit of a different take on tech immersion, the Virtuix Omni is an omnidirectional treadmill that allows users to move freely in any direction. Combined with a device like the Rift, the Omni allows for true freedom of movement through a virtual world, rather than simply moving around with a mouse or keyboard. While, similar to the Rift, the current target of the Omni is immersive gaming, the professional applications are incredibly exciting; imagine strolling through a virtual rendering of an office floor plan proposal or visiting virtual vendor booths at a conference with hundreds of other online users.
The emergence of these types of devices demonstrates that we’re on the cusp of a true virtual reality revolution; a user equipped with the Oculus Rift and the Virtuix Omni is basically already living the world of Ready Player One. As the hardware and software improve and costs go down, expect to see VR becoming a big topic in entertainment, business and immersive collaboration.