Andreessen Horowitz, the $4 billion venture capital firm (yes, the one that invested in companies such as Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook and Airbnb, among many others), published last January their top 16 tech trends here, and guess what? Virtual Reality is #1.

Many of us lived the Virtual Reality (VR) hype through the 90’s and the following disenchantment. Simply put, neither the technology nor the market was ready

But Palmer Luckey, a (then) 19 year old ‘kid’ from Long Beach, California, after having spent his teenage years tinkering with up to 50 head-mounted displays and building more than five cost-effective virtual reality displays, finally put the first version of what he called the “Rift” as a DIY-kit on Kickstarter on June 2012. In just 36 hours the campaign surpassed $1 million in funding, eventually ending with $2,437,429. Almost two years after, on March 25, 2014, Luckey’s company, Oculus VR, was acquired by Facebook for US$2 billion.

Picture: http://www.tweaktown.com/news/37828/oculus-vr-founder-palmer-luckey-makes-the-cover-of-wired-magazine/index.html

Since then, it seems that every big media or tech company (Sony, Pixar, Disney, Facebook, Google, Samsung and Microsoft among others) is interested on VR technology. But why this sudden crazy interest in VR technology? In short: the first time you experience VR through a headset like the Oculus Rift, you understand why (read: you’ll be mind blown). Just in case you haven’t (please, try!), I’ve compiled five reasons why I think this technology will be highly disruptive (in the “Peter Thiel’s sense”) in 2015:

#1. Presence has finally arrived

In the early days of VR (pioneered by Jaron Lanier), two main issues plagued VR developments: “motion sickness” and lack of “presence”. You get motion sickness when wearing a VR head-mounted display if you move your head and the scenery do not change fast enough. You can get symptoms like dizziness, nausea or even vomiting. On the other hand, “presence” is the feeling you get when you wear a head-mounted display, and aside from the realistic 3D rendering, you feel as if ‘you are there’. I’ve personally witnessed more than fifty people trying the Rift for the first time, and almost half of them try to ‘touch’ the ‘things’ they see with their hands (you can also watch ‘first-timers’ reactions here). Yes sir, that’s what can be called presence.

The Rift achieve presence and lack of motion sickness through a wide field of vision (more than 100 degrees) and a really well engineered (fast plus accurate) head rotation tracking. If you are curious about the details, I recommend this book from Manning Publications.

Picture: http://static.oculus.com/connect/slides/OculusConnect_Epic_UE4_Integration_and_Demos.pdf

#2. VR is a new medium and a new interface

VR is both a new medium and a new interface.

As a new medium, it’s characterized as a post-symbolic medium, meaning that you do not need a ‘language’ to communicate in that medium, the user just ‘experience things’ there. Some people have even called VR ‘the empathy machine’ after projects like this one, funded by United Nations, in which you experience (via immersive video) the day-to-day reality of a Syrian refugee. VR as a medium is storytelling on steroids.

The music industry is also getting up to speed with the technology, with artists such as Paul McCartney, Jack White, Beck, U2 and Coldplay experimenting with VR.

As a new interface (just as the birth of the computer mouse allowed new kind of applications and human-computer interactions) VR will unlock interaction possibilities we’re not, of course, aware as of now. As an example, Guy Godin has developed a ‘Virtual Desktop for VR’. I know, it may sound silly, but keep in mind that the natural interface for humans should be closer to immersive 3D than to a flat 2D screen.

#3. Big companies have their hands on Virtual Reality

Facebook bought Oculus VR, Samsung has partnered with Oculus VR, Sony has its own VR device in progress, Google-backed ‘Magic Leap’ is trying to make the perfect Augmented Reality Device after Google Glass fiasco, and Leap Motion has literally resurrected thanks to VR.

A month ago, it was announced that Youtube is developing 360º video streaming, VR ready.

It all sounds like the early days of the Web, in which all the money from the Valley was suddenly redirected to the new technology. And yes, it may be well that a new bubble is coming bigger as ever, but also remember that the Web survived those days by filtering out noise from value.

#4. VR development is progressing at blazing speed

I ordered Oculus DK2 on June, 2012 (it arrived on September, though). At that moment, development was kind of ‘low-level’, esoteric or expensive (licensing). In just four months, WebVR (an initiative to bring VR to the web, via javascript access to VR devices) has become really solid, Unity released their Oculus Rift integration for the free version (this is huge!), and Leap Motion+VR integration is driving really innovative applications. Youtube is full of VR videos (mostly from drones), VR (mostly three.js/WebVR based) developments are starting to grow on Github, and Oculus/Leap stores are really growing; not to mention the grassroots groups trying to make 180º videos cost-effective and VR-ready.

Picture: http://techcrunch.com/2015/01/23/un-launches-powerful-oculus-virtual-reality-film-following-syrian-refugee-girl/

#5. Real world applications are already appearing and the spectrum is huge

One of the problems with early VR is that it was successful at the industrial level, but not at the consumer level. Now, with around US$350 or even just US$20 (Google Cardboard, or a DIY version, plus a smartphone) and some knowledge of Unity (or a similar game engine) or Javascript/WebGL you can start developing your own applications.

If you follow ‘Road to VR’ or ‘Enter VR’ podcasts, you’ll quickly notice that each and every day new applications are appearing: from immersive journalism, to healing diplopia through virtual reality and everything in between: gaming (of course), adult content, movies (Story Studio and Zero Point), mental ailments healing and fitness. If you are interested in the applications of VR to Social Sciences, ‘Infinite Reality’ is a fascinating read.

As a side note, at Outliers Collective we are working to bring VR to Data Visualization (or Data Visualization to VR), developing D3.js-like capabilities into both Unity and WebVR. One of our early examples, a real-time network visualization experience can be seen here. Seems like we are not alone, you can check also ‘6000 moons’ (a data visualization/simulation of nearly 6000 objects orbiting around us in space)

***This is a guest post by Oscar Marín
Data Engineer and co-founder at Outliers Collective

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N.

No more server side rendering?

javascript and seo

A couple of weeks ago google announced a long-awaited updated on googlebot. It now runs chrome engine version 74, the same we’re currently running in our Chromes. What’s more, it announced that from now on it will keep doing regular updates on it to ensure continued support for new web technologies.

It’s still missing support for some features, but different people reported their websites being crawled and rendered perfectly by google bot now. You can use ES6 syntax and many more things without the need to polyfill or apply babel!, at least not so heavily as if the website was from 2015.

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns however, it’s known that google crawls websites with a javascript-enabled browser far less often than without it. It’s to be expected given than crawling a site with JS is fairly more expensive. So, if you have a client side website and you’re fine with google updating contents every other day, that’s fine, but if you need google to pick up updates multiple times per day you’ll still need to provide a SSR version.

Another thing to consider is the support for other search engines besides Google. Different experiments show that some of them are able to pick up javascript up to some extent, but surely not as well as google. If you care about other search engines, you’ll still have to use SSR too.

Still, this is a huge step forward from google. Websites have had a big increase in average size in the last years, and google also has to parse and take into account CSS to check for hidden content, so it’s to be expected that soon enough it will have enough capacity to crawl javascript sites as often as non-javascript ones. It’s just a matter of time.