On the 23rd of February I attended the International AR and VR conference at Manchester Metropolitan University.
There were a number of themes running through the talks I attended. The first was about People’s perception of VR. How do people feel when wearing a headset? This looked the social implication of wearing a headset not the physical comfort. It also looks at how you were perceived by other people when you were wearing a headset, smart glasses or a HoloLens. A new phrase “Fashionology” was coined when looking at how people perceive wearable technology as being purely utilitarian or a fashion statement. A notable finding was that early adopters of new wearable technology often found that people they didn’t know would start conversation with them about the item they were wearing.
Another theme was 360 video. A. Gower from BT sports covered some of the issues of broadcasting 360 video from a live sporting event. One being that cameras have to be left unattended to keep the camera men out of shot. Then officials (not yet familiar with 360 video technology) often move the cameras. Another issue is the vast bandwidth required to upload the multiple ultra HD video feed which are needed for 360 video. There was also the dissemination of the preliminary findings of research done for the Irish tourist board by A. Gidson and M. O’Rawe. They monitored the effectiveness of 360 video produced by the Irish tourist board promoting walking in Ireland.
For me the stand out presentation was from Microsoft with the demonstration of the HoloLens. The HoloLens is a wearable MR (mixed relay) headset that to the user adds a virtual lair of data over the real world. A HoloLens combines the functionality of smart glasses, the Microsoft Kinect, and a powerful windows 10 PC in a standalone mobile device. Unlike the Oculus rift and the HTC vive you are not fully immersed into a virtual world, you are not tethered to a powerful PC, and you don’t need hand controller. The HoloLens uses its’ Kinect functionality to track your hand positions and detect hand gestures to control the interface. The Kinect functionality also models the real world environment, building a 3D mesh of the environment in which it is being used. Knowing what’s around it, you can then attached virtual apps to a real world surface. This was demonstrated by placing a virtual ballerina on a step in the lecture theatre, and then moving around so that audience members were between the HoloLens and the ballerina, the parts of the ballerina that were behind the audience members did not show up. This gives the illusion that the virtual ballerina was really occupying a position in real space. The speakers P.Daukinits & M. Taulty explained that the HoloLens had all the functionality of a windows 10 PC. You could open all your normal windows 10 app and attach them to real space objects. You can place a video on a wall and make it as big as you want or place a virtual recipe book next to the cooker. You can also make a Skype call and see the point of view of the person you are talking to.
There are still some limitation to the HoloLens at just under £3000 it is prohibitively expensive, the field of view is still quite limited, there are problems if like me you wear glasses, and the hand tracking is not as accurate or versatile as using VR hand controllers. However I believe that the HoloLens or at least future incarnations of the HoloLens will be more ubiquitous than full immersion headsets as there uses are far more varied than full immersion VR. Also because the HoloLens anchors you to the real world you don’t get motion sickness.