Immersive Technologies: From Historical Legend to Digital Market Disruptor
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology has been gaining considerable market traction, widespread visibility, and buzz this year. In quantitative figures, the Central and Eastern European (CEE) AR/VR hardware market has seen growth of an astounding 462%. The worldwide market has similarly seen triple-digit growth.
Loosely defined, the VR concept has been around for a long time — far longer than computers and computer-like machines. It seems the need for alternative realities is among the basic features of the human brain. The VR concept can be traced back through films, photographs, theater, and paintings, all the way through history to basic storytelling and cave art.
In 1896 in Paris, a silent 50-second movie, The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station, by the Lumière brothers, showed a steam locomotive coming directly at the camera — and thus toward the theater audience. Legend has it that the scene triggered strong emotions, with some audience members allegedly panicking and fleeing in terror.
While this turned out to be an exaggerated urban legend that became well known within cinema circles, it is also undeniably a persistent and powerful myth that has prevailed for decades. The appeal of the legend is especially strong because it addresses inherent escape mechanisms that probably have an attraction for all sentient beings.
The second important fact is that it just works. For those not entirely faint-hearted, watch the reactions of grandmas and grandpas on Youtube playing VR versions of Resident Evil, Amnesia, or Paranormal Activity horror games (something they've presumably been dared to do by their loving younger relatives).
VR & drones
Virtual reality technology neatly fits into both traditional and emerging IT ecosystems, and thus imparts a synergetic effect. One such emergent ecosystem, drone racing, began somewhere on the verge of 2015 as an amateur event for radio-controlled (RC) models enthusiasts. As drones became more affordable and their popularity soared, drone competitions began popping up all over the world and championships became common, even regular, events. The immersive effect, the out of body experience, makes the races even more appealing for a wider potential audience, both active and passive — i.e., both for the operating pilots and for the spectators. In fact, a VR head-mounted display allowing first-person view (FPV) is currently an essential piece of equipment for the drone operator.
Some drone systems can act autonomously, delivering food and other goods or tracking and filming athletes and other moving targets. Some may even employ so-called "swarm intelligence," a type of artificial intelligence, which is useful for defending aerial objects or performing cooperative reconnaissance and such like. Still, self-aware drones with strong AI are decades away, luckily… so for the time being, Skynet is not an issue for humanity.
In the coming years, IDC foresees aerial drone championships, ground robot fighting leagues, and other competitive or cooperative activities that take advantage of virtual reality proliferating, the only inhibitors being cost or availability of the requisite technology.
VR & sports
Basketball and football, as examples of more traditional sporting events, are also being influenced by virtual reality technology. As a clear indication of this development, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Football League (NFL) have partnered with NextVR, a virtual reality capturing and delivery company, to offer viewers the possibility to experience the game — slam dunks and tackles — from almost any view of their choosing. Again, the immersive effect delivers an experience paralleled only by the reality of being a professional player. Based on similar concepts, SkyVR — a VR production company that includes support for aerial photography — has produced virtual reality footage and streaming video from National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) events.
Other examples that have already arrived on the VR scene in 2016 include soccer, chess, cycling, ice hockey, and golf. You name it, there's a VR immersive experience of it available. Needless to say, sporting events represent only a fraction of these VR production companies' portfolios, and there are dozens of other companies engaged in this business.
VR & other events
Marketing promotions, presentations, social gatherings, movies, music clips and videos, all have been successfully piloted in a VR landscape throughout 2016, and the burgeoning response implies that the market will evolve into a ubiquitous standard in the near future. Anything that makes sense to be visualized two dimensionally (on a flat television screen, for instance) frequently makes even better sense visualized with an additional dimension in virtual reality.
IDC expects that 2017 will bring an expanded range of VR-streamed events, as well as, qualitatively speaking, seamless streaming experiences, better picture quality and a wider variety of viewing angles. Virtual reality and the surrounding technologies will become the "new TV" in the following years and will represent a disruptive potential even greater for the industry than Netflix and streaming services did in the past. Old-school television companies that do not hop on the VR train early enough (or those that have not already begun to innovate along VR lines), will be left at the station.