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Virtual reality: today, tomorrow and the influence of the porn industry

444 days ago

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On the 23rd of May, SMC050 organized a meetup with keynotes about all things virtual and augmented. The promise of virtual reality has been around for a couple of decades, but never seemed to lift of. With Oculus Rift, Cardboard, the media and all the big tech companies behind it, that all seems to change rapidly. So what will we use it for, what can we do with it so far and is it just another bubble or hype?

Junction and the Virtual Dutchmen kicked things off at the MartiniPlaza with a very cool keynote about the history of VR, the current state of the tech and the opportunities for tomorrow.

A brief history of VR

The story of virtual reality started with the Sensorama, an obscure and bulky invention by Morton Heilig in 1962. The Sensorama was able to display stereoscopic 3-D images in a wide-angle view, provide body tilting, supply stereo sound, and also had tracks for wind and aromas to be triggered during the film. Oddly enough in hindsight, Heilig was unable to obtain financial backing for his visions and patents, and so the Sensorama work was halted. Today, it remains primarily a curiosity in the history of Virtual Reality.

In the ‘90s, the first VR hype took off, with companies like Sega and Nintendo unsuccessfully launching the first commercially available gear. And we all know what happened; the gear was uncomfortable and bulky, and incredibly expensive with disappointing results. In short, no bang for buck.

Most of us forgot about the technology, but not VR gadget collector Palmer Luckey. He decided to build his own gear, using an old ski mask and fiddling away in his parents’ garage at age 18. He then launched his Oculus Rift Kickstarter campaign and changed the game completely. And made some money too: Luckey ranks number 26 on Forbes' 2015 list of America's richest entrepreneurs under 40.

So now Facebook, Google, Sony and HTC have hopped on the VR bandwagon too, and virtual reality is finally being taken seriously. We’re still in the early stages, but things are already pretty impressive.

The influence of the porn industry

Strangely enough (or actually not that strange when you think about the most popular thing on the internet by a landslide), for most new consumer technology, the adult entertainment industry is the secret kingmaker. That’s right, their fate is decided by the age-old question: “Can I use it for porn?”

It sounds funny, but it’s actually true. In the ‘ 80s, you had two formats for video: Betamax and good old VHS. One was backed by the porn industry, and one wasn’t. Same goes for HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. Guess who won...

Back to School VR project

Anyway, on to some more serious applications. Clinical psychologist Kirsten Lamberts works at the Martini Hospital, the burn ward for kids to be precise. Changing bandages is extremely painful for people who have suffered severe burns. But she found out that when kids are playing a game with a VR headset on, they barely notice a thing and don’t need a lot of pain medication.

But that’s not all. Kids with severe burns have to be quarantined, to protect them from any kind of infection. Which also means they’ll be missing a lot of school, let alone any real social contact. The Martini Hospital has teamed up with yellowBird to create an interactive environment for these kids, so it’s almost like they’re sitting in a classroom with their friends. It’s called the Back to School VR project, and they’ve won 3rd place for the best VR idea of the Netherlands, during Startup Fest Europe in Amsterdam.

With many possible applications, and just as many different markets, like education (serious gaming), marketing, cars and even real estate joining it, VR doesn’t feel very much like a bubble or hype anymore. We’ll see if this second wave takes off in the coming years.


443 days ago

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