Virtual Reality

Virtual reality edges closer to mainstream success, thanks in part to Meta

The experience of virtual reality is notoriously difficult to explain, but the main thing to understand is that in most cases it’s more intuitive than playing games on a console or PC. Headsets use either sensors placed around your room, or (as with Quest 2) cameras mounted on the device itself, to track your head movement. This means you can explore the virtual environment the same way you’d explore a real one; by looking around, turning, or taking a few steps in any direction.

Handheld sensors do a similar thing for manipulating objects, letting you push, prod, squeeze, hold or throw whatever happens to be in the virtual space. This also helps make experiences more immersive than traditional games. In Half Life Alyx for example you can pick up a whiteboard pen from the environment and use it to write on stuff, even though that’s tangential to the actual game. In Resident Evil 4 your handgun, ammo clip, knife and grenades are all located on specific parts of your body; to use them you put your hand near one and grab.

Part of the reason for VR’s growing popularity is that those interactions, which can sound complicated and intimidating, are now much easier to understand through online videos.

Naysy has a camera and green screen set up to record her as she plays in VR, which she can pair with video from the headset itself that lets viewers see what she sees. But with games that support “mixed reality” she can use software to make it appear as if the camera is inside the virtual experience with her, and viewers get the context of seeing how she uses her body to interact.

“Mixed reality showcases VR in the best way. The software’s getting better now, you don’t need all the high-tech stuff,” she said.

“You don’t even need a green screen; you can do it from your phone. It’s not very good, but that technology’s getting better and better, and more accessible as well.”

Meta’s Jason Juma-Ross.Credit:Jeremy Piper

Meta’s Australian director of innovation, Jason Juma-Ross, said VR adoption was at an inflection point, and had accelerated rapidly from a time when games were still played with traditional controllers and head-tracking was difficulty to achieve.

“Over the years the interaction models have been pushed through controllers, hand-tracking and even further towards new technologies that are on the horizon like electromyography,” he said, referring to the measurement of electrical activity in muscles that is currently mostly used in medical procedures.

“But VR’s about a lot more than just gaming, over the years we’ve seen a lot of these interesting use cases start to emerge and evolve. People in VR today are doing things that can be characterised as fitness, social interaction, education, even work and shopping.”

VR is central to Meta’s much-publicised vision of the metaverse, a hypothetical future incarnation of the internet that would exist as interconnected digital worlds you can experience through screens or with immersive technology.

The company reportedly has a much smaller goggle-like headset in the works designed to overlay data and virtual objects on a user’s view of the real world, and applications for an early version of this “pass-through mode” on Quest 2 have included putting a virtual TV of any size on your loungeroom wall, or labelling keys in real-time to help teach piano.

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“There are clear use cases for being in a closed environment in VR, and there are clear use cases for more augmented reality environments. I think we’re going to see a range of different behaviours,” Mr Juma-Ross said, pointing to current local projects including VR fitness program Les Mills Body Combat, augmented reality wilderness simulation ReWild, and a virtual fashion show from designer Denni Francisco.

There have also been trials using VR as therapy for elderly or immobile people, and there are nascent applications for telepresence social interactions and virtual communal office spaces.

However, Meta faces an uphill battle transitioning Quest 2 and its successors from games to a full-fledged social and communication platform, given Facebook’s history of social experimentation and data privacy breaches. It has already had one potential revolt to contend with when it moved to make Facebook accounts mandatory for all headsets, a stance it’s since walked back.

“I think a lot of people are hoping that, now that Facebook has helped make VR more mainstream, we’ll get a lot of other brands come in and start to offer similar headsets,” Naysy said.

But Mr Juma-Ross emphasised the company is aiming to be just one part of an open metaverse ecosystem. The company also had a set of responsible innovation principles, he said, which took account not just of the user but of the people who would be around them while the product was in use.

“I think it’s really a question of having the right principles, and being able to start early on the journey. Because we are very early, it’s going to take five to 10 years for all of this to play out,” he said.

“We want to get people involved in consultative and collaborative processes as early as possible, so that we can evolve this in the right direction.”

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Naysy has a camera and green screen set up to record her as she plays in VR, which she can pair with video from the headset itself that lets viewers see what she sees. But with games that support “mixed reality” she can use software to make it appear as if the camera is inside the virtual experience with her, and viewers get the context of seeing how she uses her body to interact.

Source: https://globalcirculate.com/virtual-reality-edges-closer-to-mainstream-success-thanks-in-part-to-meta/

Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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