Virtual reality – for real?

oculus-rift-virtual-reality-headset$75m is a large investment for a one year-old company, even for Silicon Valley in these excitable times.  Oculus VR has just added that sum to its previous $18.4m Kickstarter and series A rounds.

The reason for the excitement is that the Oculus Rift headset just might be the first product to provide a genuine virtual reality experience for consumers.  Only 300 people have tried the current prototype, but over 42,000 people have bought developer kits based on its predecessor.

Previous VR products have failed to provide a genuinely realistic environment, and some have made users feel dizzy or nauseous.  Oculus founder Brendan Iribe claims that his product has overcome these challenges.  “Of the 300 people who have seen the current prototype, every single person has come away saying ‘That’s gonna change the world.’  There’s a general feeling that it’s a true ‘Holy Grail’ experience in terms of immersive reality.”

Part of the reason for the investors’ confidence is the team’s prior experience at the top of the games industry.  Between them, founders Brendan Iribe and Palmer Luckey, and CTO John Cormack are credited with creating the Guitar Hero, Quake, and Doom franchises.  The company won’t specify when the product will hit the shelves, but they are talking about selling hundreds of millions of units within a decade.

Truly immersive virtual reality is one of the “canary technologies” that may wake a lot more people up to the fact that the changes being wrought by technology this half-century are not just incremental improvements, but revolutionary.  (Others include robotics, wearable computing like Google Glass, driverless cars, 3D printing, and brain-computer interfaces.)

The obvious killer app for virtual reality headsets is gaming, but the company also hopes to revolutionise video-conferencing.  Certainly there is plenty of scope to improve on the grainy images our laptops present us with today, but Oculus hasn’t yet explained how it proposes to present callers with a more interesting view of each other than a face wearing what looks like a blacked-out divers mask.

Girl with oculus-rift-virtual-reality-headset

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9 thoughts on “Virtual reality – for real?

  1. I’m about as far from a gamer as you can get, but I am really curious to see how this comes out. There are so many possibilities for technology like this — architectural previews, data visualization, live immersive streaming of events, and so forth. Video conferencing would be just the beginning (and yeah, I’m not sure how that would work, either, unless they propose including all the attendees as avatars. Don’t really know how that would go in corporate-ville.)

    • I agree with you, Andron. Ultimately, virtual reality will have to forgo headsets and employ lots and lots of cameras – probably in the form of tiny swarming drones. But Oculus Rift looks like being an exciting moment along the way.

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