Think Augmented or Virtual Reality Won't Affect You? Better Think Again

Jodi Schiller

January 29, 2018

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Sam Murley, my developer colleague, hasn't had much sleep lately. That's because he's recently tested the new, heavily hyped augmented reality Microsoft product. As much as Sam assumed he knew what to expect, he found the actual experience astonishing. Since the demo that day, he's been way too excited to catch many Z's.

The product? Microsoft's Hololens, a wearable computer and mixed-reality headset that lets users experience a combination of virtual, augmented, and "real" reality. In Virtual Reality (VR), you're immersed in an entirely rendered world with no interaction with your actual surroundings. Augmented Reality (AR) lets you add to or "augment" your real, existing environment with anything—yes, anything�"you can dream up. (Fancy a majestic lion reclining on your bed? No problem.)

Welcome to a World of Robots & Rubble

Here's how Sam describes his experience with the insomnia-inspiring Hololens, which was made available in a developer version in early 2016:

"I take a seat on a couch in a staged 'living room.' The wireless headset lets me control my AR/VR experience with my gaze (the Hololens tracks eye movement), my gesture (I motion to 'click' a mouse or 'shoot' with my finger), or my voice. When I put on my headset, suddenly the entire room is mapped precisely with a wave of blue squares. Then I hear a deep, loud rumbling from right outside the living room. Suddenly, one of the walls crumbles. Out of the rubble steps an entirely realistic, three-dimensional robot, and it's shooting at me. I duck to avoid the spray of bullets, using the couch as a shield. I catch my breath, then cock my finger and 'shoot' back. When I miss, bullets ricochet back at me. When my aim is true, the robot crumples into a broken heap. During this 'battle,' my heart races and my adrenaline pumps like crazy. The experience is completely exhilarating."

Is AR/VR More Than Just a Gaming Technology?

Sam's description blew me away and not just because he successfully destroyed evil robots. For myself—and for others involved in this emerging, seemingly futuristic AR/VR industry—the Hololens and related technology has significant and serious implications that go beyond bringing interactive gaming to a whole new level. (To be clear, although gaming gets the most media attention, it represents just a small subset of the future applications of this technology.)

Advanced AR/VR products—including those in development by CastAR, Magic Leap, Seebright, and AR glasses already on the market—will eventually change how we work, play, educate, and even heal people. This technology will touch every industry and most areas of our private lives. AR/VR will influence, shape, and ultimately change life as we know it in a myriad of ways.

The following list outlines some AR/VR applications that people either already use or are likely to use in the future.

AR/VR Technology Will:

  • Replace your computer, keyboard, dials, and gauges. You'll wear high-tech headgear and use your words, hands, and eyes to control an interactive display floating in midair.

  • Replace your physical TV or screen. Your virtual screen will appear on whatever surface you want.

  • Boost the potential of the Internet of things. You'll effortlessly interact with and control the products and space around you. Think "god-like power"—with a wave of your hand the door opens and the lights turn on. With a glance and a nod, dinner is delivered to your door, or your food "printer" makes dinner. I think you'll still have to make your bed and put the dishes in the dishwasher . . . for now.

  • Enable "in-person" meetings and collaboration with remote colleagues, clients, or friends via 3D holograms (think Princess Leia appealing to Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars).

  • Enhance brand power. Whether you challenge Luke Skywalker to a lightsaber duel, watch fountains of Coca-Cola dance in a choreographed light display, or applaud pop-up theater on your street corner, you'll interact with 3D-rendered brands and entertainment wherever you want. And you can easily modify these over time to create a serialized, ongoing story.

  • Streamline shopping and design. Try on clothes and jewelry, test-drive a car, and give new furniture or paint colors a whirl with no commitment necessary (check out roomhints). For architecture and real estate, tour a potential home or office space (even unfinished ones) before you sign on the dotted line (see matterport).

  • Encourage exploration. Roam the Parisian streets or wander through the Mayan ruins before (but hopefully not instead of) heading to the airport.

  • Make media-sharing instantaneous. Got a hilarious video to show a friend? You'll simply move your eyes from the selected clip (it would "live" behind a visual icon) and say, "Share with Sally." Hey, presto—now you're watching that cat fall into the bathtub—together.

  • Entertainment & Healthcare: Science Fiction is Now Science Fact

    Does this all sound far-fetched? The truth is, even we in the AR/VR industry sometimes find it challenging to grasp the technology's full potential for transforming our ideas about, and experiences of, entertainment. Consider this:

  • Movies of all kinds will offer an immersive 360-degree experience. In theaters, the action will take place all around you, everywhere you look. VR is more akin to immersive, live theater than to traditional movies. VR storytellers are hard at work creating an entirely new medium for conveying a story.

  • When you watch your favorite home movies, you'll feel like you're exploring the world with your toddler again. I discovered the intensity of this experience when I saw a video shot with SilVR Thread technology. Tai Crosby, the CEO, took a home "video" of his three-year-old son accompanying him on a hike. The boy chatters away to his dad and shows him all the special rocks he's found. In my viewing experience, instead of Tai, I was the one having a powerful, one-on-one experience exploring the outdoors with this delightful boy. I was so thoroughly transported back to the days of discovering the world with my young children that I wept. If you like the idea of family movies becoming an immersive family history experience, I hope you'll be inspired to fund companies like SilVR Thread. (For now, this technology is too expensive for average consumers.)

  • AR will also give birth to a unique approach to storytelling—one that's more akin to the stage than the screen. Three-dimensional avatars or holograms of actors will seem to appear in the room with you, acting out stories in an immersive, theatrical performance. You'll be able to interact with the characters and even participate in and influence the performance (like a Choose Your Own Adventure book) while in your home. Perhaps elves will dance on your dining room table and take a peek into your fridge to see what's for dinner.

  • Gaming will become ever more lifelike. You will network with gamers around the world while having a realistic battle in 3D. It will be the Star Trek Holodeck

  • Here's How I Envision AR/VR Improving & (Re)Shaping Healthcare

  • Mental healthcare will be more effective and efficient than ever before. Current and future treatments with VR include helping patients with anxiety disorders (including PTSD), phobias, panic attacks, anger management, stress inoculation training, eating disorders and obesity, pain, addictions, autism, cognitive rehabilitation after TBI/stroke, and physical rehabilitation. Drama therapists and cognitive behaviorists will be particularly well positioned to use this approach.

  • Eventually (though probably not in the next five years), surgeons will be able to "get inside" their patients as they are repairing them using tiny, 360-degree cameras. Surgeons will be able to access a transmission sent from inside the patient in real time. They will experience themselves inside the patient's body

  • New Frontiers—& a Few New Fears

    This list of changes brought about by advances in AR/VR is by no means exhaustive. But I hope it gives you an idea of the frontiers AR/VR experts are exploring and, to some extent, already conquering. I think most people will applaud eliminating cumbersome screens, improving our moviegoing experiences, and helping trauma patients recover faster.

    However, I also believe it's important to acknowledge and discuss the bigger social and cultural implications that go hand-in-hand with this future-forward technology.

    In the meantime, like my pal Sam, I'm still buzzing from his Hololens adventure. I can't wait to put on a headset and take out a robot or two myself.

    Originally posted on New Reality Arts.

    Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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