Other Gadgets

A step-up in our virtual lives

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on April 10, 2014

Virtual Reality A programmer uses the Oculus Rift virtual reality console to play a dirt-bike racing simulator.The Rift provides a 360degree immersive view of the game. R. RAVINDRAN

Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus is a pointer to a deeper personal presence online

For sure, Mark Zuckerberg would have done the math. That’s why many think Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of virtual reality firm Oculus last week is a bold pointer to the future. The acquisition gives virtual reality enthusiasts and developers much needed confidence to pursue their efforts towards making the world an ‘unreal’ experience.

Oculus, co-founded by 21-year-old, home-schooled, Palmer Luckey, makes a headgear that effectively beams you into a virtual reality experience. Is it 3D? Well, it’s much more than that. It’s interactive, and supports motion. Ideally, the gadget can help you play games by being part of the game, repair things by taking the avatar of a mechanic and do much more.

Beam me up, Scotty!

Before you junk such ideas or associate them with cyberpunk, take one hard look at what’s happening. A whole bouquet of features and services can be packaged using virtual reality. And, many companies including Google, Microsoft and Sony are developing virtual reality technologies.

Mostly about gaming as of now, virtual reality has four broad hardware branches – head-mounted display (HMD), head-up display (HUD), smart glasses and augmented reality (AR) applications. And many military applications use HMDs, mainly in aviation. Now, automakers are putting it to good use. Luxury car manufacturers like Rolls-Royce, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, and other car makers like General Motors and Toyota are using HUDs in their high-end models.

Sony’s Project Morpheus, targeted at gamers has been in the making for four years now. Google Glass might not be a pure virtual reality application, but Google has bigger plans using this platform. Microsoft’s Kinect project doesn’t offer goggles, but a monitor projects video to a wall. The Xbox 360 accessory uses hand control and voice commands to initiate and enhance a virtual reality experience. Another important experiment, MReal from Canon, which many dub the Google Glass for business, with its augmented reality capabilities, helps developers and companies create new products and features.

It’s only a matter of time before virtual reality moves out of gaming. There are reports that Google is funding a secret virtual reality project, High Fidelity, which imagines and tries to build an avatar-based virtual reality experience. In this world, thousands of computers enable you to reincarnate into a chosen avatar and talk, dance and even have sex with each other. You can do much more in the future. Experts say virtual reality can revolutionise medical care, scientific research, automotive, learning, sports and, of course, gaming in the near future.

What’s Facebook’s plan?

To be sure, Zuckerberg knows the potential of this world. And that explains his seemingly hasty decision to buy Oculus. Some people are speculating that Facebook is trying to enter the video gaming business with Oculus. Or, it might come up with a new hardware blending Oculus and some novel technology to enhance the virtual reality experience.

The Oculus buy makes business sense as well. The deal comes just a few weeks after Facebook spent $19 billion to buy WhatsApp messenger, whose 450-million-and-counting user base offered it a ready Cache of networked individuals. Oculus, however, offers no such avenues. But it can help Facebook diversify its advertising streams. Or, it can help Facebook provide a social media experience that is blended in virtual-reality. Imagine saying ‘hi’ to your friend meeting her avatar in cyberspace and spending some quality time with her, all using a headgear?

But make no mistake; Zuckerberg knows getting people, even youngsters, to wear such headgears is not going to be easy. So far, user experience with 3D devices has not been very impressive. People just don’t like to wear them for long. Plus, many are worried about health issues and of privacy breach. But those concerns could go away over a period of time provided such devices offer an experience that is useful, immersive and hassle-free. Also, the younger generation is getting more and more tech-daring, and have zero inhibitions about trying out such new experiences if it can enhance the way they interact with the world. And that’s why Zuckerberg thinks Oculus will help the world “experience the impossible”. Many assume Zuckerberg is imagining a world where people connect with each other through devices such as Oculus Rift. And in this brave new world, where, according to Zuckerberg, Internet reaches people via “drones, satellites and lasers”, virtual reality plays a very real role.

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Published on April 09, 2014
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