Oculus Rift, Sony’s Project Morpheus and dozens of crowd-funded VR-related projects have spawned a daily avalanche of news stories, opinion pieces and social network posts about virtual reality. As someone who’s been involved in immersive worlds for the past six or seven years, I’m intrigued by the potential of instant deep immersion. On the other hand, my experience has also taught me that every technological advance within a particular medium that begins with a “Wow!” ends up with a “whatever.”
People watching a Charlie Chaplin feature in the 1920s weren’t any less engaged than the audience I was in last week watching 22 Jump Street. The influence of the movie industry as a whole has been vastly more powerful than any particular movie or technological advance. The impact of an ultimately ubiquitous new technology is more in the service environment it spawns than the raw technology itself. The power of the car to take you from place to place, for instance, is dwarfed by the impact of the highway system, the oil industry and the worldwide economy that is dependent upon automotive transportation.
So when I think about virtual reality powered by VR goggles and new controllers, my excitement isn’t about moving around Second Life or High Fidelity with a heightened level of immersion. Using VR hardware to feel more immersed within a virtual world or MMORPG is simply the launch of a new “Wow! to whatever” cycle. The potential of VR to be world changing is in becoming seamlessly integrated into physical world society and business, through some combination of VR headsets, haptic controllers, sensor fusion, robotics, drones, wearables, implants, holographic projection, AR and AI that create a unified fabric weaving together the physical and the virtual.
Am I convinced this is going to happen in my lifetime? No. But it will be exciting being a part of a medium in its infancy with the potential to be truly world changing. Which is why I broke down and ordered the Oculus DK2 last week.