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11.30.15 - AR/VR: Immersed in a New Reality

Augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) are going to be huge, and both will be adopted quickly – even though the average person isn’t familiar with the technology today.

This was the message shared by the five speakers featured at the fall 2015 Igniting Technology program, “AR/VR: Immerse Yourself in a New Reality,” held Nov. 19 at Calit2.

According to a report published earlier this year by Digi-Capital, virtual reality and augmented reality combined are expected to generate about $150 billion in revenue by 2020. Of that staggering sum, $120 billion is likely to come from sales of augmented reality − with the lion's share comprised of hardware, commerce, data, voice services, and film and TV projects − and $30 billion from virtual reality, mainly from games and hardware.

Calit2’s Irvine division director G.P. Li welcomed guests to the evening’s event and explained Calit2’s interest in the pioneering technology. “Our institute focuses on research and development of information and communication technology, but also explores their use for transforming health, environment, energy and culture. Tonight’s event is about how we use technology to transform the cultures of entertainment and education using AR and VR,” he said.

The sold-out event was sponsored for the 11th consecutive year by intellectual property law firm Knobbe Martens, Olson & Bear, and was moderated by KMOB partner Ronald J. Schoenbaum.

Igniting Technology, featured speakers, (L to R) Walt Scacchi, Aditi Majumder, 
Ciaran Foley, Dylan Watkins, Dan Lejerskar


TECHNOLOGY, CONTENT, EXPERIENCE

Walt Scacchi, research director of UC Irvine’s Institute for Virtual Environments and Computer Games, provided an introduction to AR/VR and gamification opportunities.
 
AR/VR has three common characteristics, Scacchi said. “They have an embodiment as technology. They can be engaged and rendered as a form of content, and they can be recognized as immersive and present as a kind of experience.”
 
He showcased examples of UCI AR/VR projects, including a game-based TeleRehabilitation system for people recovering from strokes. Stroke victims often have partial paralysis on one side, he said.  “We’ve created a game-based environment, where their therapy entails doing different kinds of motor activity in the course of playing the game.” The system is currently deployed in a nationwide clinical trial supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Dan Lejerskar, chairman of EON Reality, a software company that develops virtual reality and augmented reality products aimed at improving knowledge transfer, presented the benefits of using AR/VR as training tools. “If I was to teach one of you here how to crash-land an aircraft, I don’t think anyone would dispute the fact that it’s probably better to put you in a (flight) simulator than to give you a book,” he said.

Lejerskar previewed an anatomically correct 3D Eye model solution developed by EON Reality. The model was designed to not only allow ophthalmology students to virtually examine and dissect the eye, but to also be programmed to display dozens of dysfunctions. In a few weeks’ time, a student can experience the variety and complexity of vision conditions that would normally take a physician decades to encounter. “The best part: this app cost $90; the books cost $600,” he said.

MOBILE SPACIALLY AUGMENTED REALITY

Aditi Majumber, UCI professor and manager of Calit2 Visualization Lab, continued the conversation from the point of a researcher and educator.

“Virtual Reality means you are immersing yourself in a completely virtual world, and you have no contact with your physical world anymore,” UCI Professor and Manager of Calit2 Visualization Lab, Aditi Majumd said.

VR puts users inside virtual worlds – typically by way of using a head-mounted device; AR puts virtual things into users' real worlds,” she added.

Majumder predicts the next generation of augmented reality applications will be spatially augmented reality (SAR) – “augmenting the physical world with projected light.”

Several SAR projects are being developed in the Calit2 Visualization Lab, from a high-level, multiprojector display system for Disney, to an inexpensive, portable visualization system capable of being projected on something as common as a shower curtain, to software that can project light on a relief map to simulate the flow of the Colorado River. “You can introduce a damn and your cameras will immediately figure out something new has happened, and it changes the fluid simulation,” Majumder said.

“Our personal devices are getting smaller and smaller, but when we try to work together we huddle around a computer,” she said. Majumder imagines using spatially augmented reality to create shared digital workspaces where users can collaborate by interacting with the displays.

Additional examples and information about Majumder’s work can be found at http://graphics.ics.uci.edu/
 
EXPERIENCE EQUALS UNDERSTANDING
“One of the things that’s so exciting about virtual reality, and so mysterious is, you have to experience it to understand it,” Dylan Watkins, Founder of Monster VR, said.

Since January, when Watson founded Monster VR, he has formed AR/VR communities, held hackathons and game jams, and taught classes in an effort to produce applications as quickly as possible. 

Monster VR already has received recognition for a number of games and experiences it has created. Watson now plans to create 2-day, VR development classes to help train students in Unity prototyping, 360-degree video development, demonstrating rigs used to capture AR/VR content, post-processing, print mastering, and “showing people how to hack on the Theta (a camera that shoots 360-degree, spherical, panoramic images.) It’s all about learning, building and communicating what you have done,” he said.

“2016 is going to be the year for virtual reality. It’s just hard because we’re all talking about this thing that’s not here yet,” Watson said.

ONE JOURNEY

In September, Immersive Entertainment received its first angel round of funding from Tech Coast Angels. Ciaran Foley, the company’s CEO, shared his strategy and experiences in creating an AR/VR startup.

Multidisciplinary teams are a must,” Foley said. “More than any other technology, this requires artists, people versed in virtual reality, psychology, biology – you name it. We knew we’d need core developers who knew how to tell a story and use the technology.”
Timing is imperative too. “We had to understand how the software and hardware are evolving. If we looked too far ahead, we wouldn’t have anyone to sell to, and if we were too far behind, there’d be nothing unique to offer,” he said. 

VR forces a sense of immersion. It also reinforces delight and awe if it’s done correctly, Foley said. He focused on creating CGI-based experiences that were highly immersive, interactive, scalable and most importantly, emotional. “Do not underestimate the role of emotion, it is key in all of this,” he said.

Our goal was to reach revenue quickly, so we could start talking to our customers – and listening,” he added.
Within weeks of closing its Angel 1 round, Immersive Entertainment had released a beta of its first VR title, The Grand Canyon, a self-directed and discovery-driven experience.

About 1,000 people have demoed the product. Their feedback and responses have convinced Foley the company is on the right track, he said.

To view a recording of this Igniting Technology event visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vg0Sb2WFeHA

-- Sharon HenrySave