Another new day is dawning for augmented reality (AR) glasses. Yeah, you might have heard about virtual reality (VR) or AR, and maybe you even tried them out and thought, nope, just like 3D movies, these will be a flash in the pan. There have been many new days since Facebook bought Oculus, a VR headset “startup” for $3 billion, yes, billion, or at least that’s the widely reported number, five years ago. We have seen the launch of high-profile device startups from VR eye-tracking headsets from FOVE to AR glasses like ODG.
But the new products I saw at the latest AWE blows this all away. More on that below. Let me first be clear: Nothing since 2014, including the latest round of immersive technology products to hit the market, is new. The underlying research for what we see now has been in the works from Boston to San Francisco to London to Rio to Tel Aviv to Johannesburg for many decades. This technology is not new, it just works a lot better than it did.
I came late or early to this party, depending on how you look at it. In April 2015 I walked into a “science fair” the likes of which most of us have never experienced, into a world where I was dancing on stage with Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, where I could work through my phobia of heights (or other fears if I had them), to where I was witnessing the sounds from witnesses to the killing of Trayvon Martin from the exact vantage point in the building complex where it happened, to watching still photographs transformed into 3D videos- precious memories immortalized not in the form of a flat video, or “flatty,” as I’ve heard videos as we know them today called, but something much more vivid, more emotionally arresting.
I became hooked on that day in Silicon Valley, and have only developed an obsession since then. I’ve worked on the venture capital side, written and directed a VR experience for Google, advised Fortune 500 companies and dozens of startups or projects on AR and VR, and now work to accelerate the entire lot of stakeholders at RLab.
That’s what we do at RLab. We aim to support and speed up the evolution of these technologies. So this is all to say when I was at AWE Santa Clara last month, I was struck by a couple of things: the AR glasses and VR headsets are smaller, designed better, and they have more features. Just to name a few.
That’s me on the left. Nreal, a Chinese company, is getting ready to release AR glasses where the resolution and brightness are nearly indistinguishable from real life, and perhaps better because the lightning will be controlled for all environments.
Rokid also had glasses that like many today also have built-in directional sound, which means you don’t need to stick something inside or on top of your ears to hear perfectly. This audio tech that’s becoming widely available is pretty amazing. Other seamless features include the ability to move from a VR environment, fully immersed in a digitally created world, to AR, where you are interacting in the real world with a digital creation; as Jake Steinerman illustrated on Twitter:
The easiest way to explain the difference between AR and VR: pic.twitter.com/PctFiklWXN
— Jake Steinerman (@jsteinerman) June 8, 2019
Lastly, the headsets and glasses are just more comfortable. They have frames and glass areas that reflect their ability to project images versus having huge areas for glass and tiny, tiny digital visuals.
It definitely feels like immersive tech’s heyday is on the horizon. It will be, I believe, the realization of the internet of things, or IoT, when our devices, from watches to AirPods to computers, refrigerators, cars and all other devices in our lives are connected and have the ability to interact, to be immersed in the world around us in ways we haven’t even thought about today.
As with all technological advances the opportunities from healthcare to entertainment are staggering, as are the monstrous concerns about data, privacy and impact (hows does VR impact the brain?)- big issues for another article. This one is about the fact that it will be possible. Imagine walking into a room that immediately adjusts to your temperature preference, or the ability to project frameless digital images- right into the air around you or have your best friend beam into your New York City apartment, sit on your couch and have a lovely visit when she is physically in London. The possibilities are extraordinary.
At RLab, an initiative launched by the NYC Economic Development and the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, we are operated by NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering among a consortium of universities including Columbia University, CUNY and The New School. We focus on supporting startup formation and growth, education and training and corporate innovation, which is where my team comes in. How is your company thinking about these technologies? Empowering your employees? Iterating your products and services? I bet at RLab we can help you and your business understand the value today and into the future. Reach out! We will be happy to hear from you.