The best university in the world in 2014, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, regularly publishes reviews about incredible discoveries and developments. This year it introduced its top ten breakthrough technologies of the present time. According to the authors, these are “breakthroughs that will make a difference for many years”. Oculus Rift is #8 in the list.
Thirty years after the emergence of virtual reality glasses, this technology is finally ready for wide distribution.
Breakthrough: high-quality virtual reality hardware, available to consumer market.
Why does it matter: virtual reality interfaces will lead to new forms of entertainment and communications.
Key players: Oculus, Sony, Vuzix and NVIDIA.
Oculus VR founder, Palmer Luckey, constructed the first working prototype of VR glasses in his garage when he was 16. Today he owns the company which is soon releasing Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset for an incredible immersion in video games. Facebook bought the company for $2 billion in spring 2014.
Oculus VR has already attracted more than $91 million in venture funding as well as a lot of fans and qualified developers like John Carmack, the famous game designer, who developed games such as Doom, Quake and Rage. But the deal with Facebook is a sign that virtual reality is close enough to powerfully affecting the video game industry. The idea of merging the virtual reality with social communications is rather intriguing. VR headset can also be a powerful tool for teleconferencing, online shopping or more passive forms of entertainment. Some filmmakers, in fact, are already experimenting with films, created specifically for Oculus Rift.
Virtual reality headsets have been around for a long time, but the technology was never widely distributed, and its quality raised many questions. However, Luckey realized that cheap components of smartphones are perfectly suited to create a stunning effect, and the graphics they provide will be much better than block graphics of earlier prototypes.
When you use Oculus Rift, you feel as if you are indeed inside virtual worlds. Technology follows the movement of your head in real-time mode.
The majority of home video games developers showed their interest in the device. In August 2012 Oculus VR launched a campaign on Kickstarter to collect 250,000 dollars. $1 million was collected in two days.
Luckey began supplying Rift for software developers in March 2013 for only $300. Last year the hardware has improved significantly. The retail version of the device, which is expected to be launched later this year or early next year, will offer resolution even higher than 1920×1080 pixels for each eye.
It seems very likely that the first players in the field of virtual reality are going to be video games, but soon it can be used in architecture, telecommunications, design, training and therapy.
In some areas outdated technology of virtual reality has been used for a long time. Some surgeons regularly practice the use of virtual simulation, industrial designers viewed their projects as if they have already been constructed. But 30 years ago, when Jaron Lanier founded VPL Research, the first company to sell virtual reality glasses, these products were too expensive for mainstream consumers (a display cost $100 000).
There were other reasons as to why earlier versions of virtual reality glasses have not entered the commercial market. Fans of Virtual Boy from Nintendo, launched in the mid-90s, complained of nausea after a long game. Others were just disappointed in the virtual world. “The first game in the virtual world is just incredible, – said Lanier. – But in the twentieth time it is becoming tiresome to play”.
Now everything is about to change. Although some people experienced nausea after wearing Oculus Rift, the company says that the latest version will eliminate this problem. And today’s virtual environment provides incredible oppportunities. Artists were able to create a huge array of worlds, from a strictly realistic to more abstract and beautiful.
Oculus had already inspired imitators. Recognizing Rift as a great inspiration, Sony demonstrated a virtual reality headset for PlayStation 4. Also, Sony is currently working with NASA to create a virtual simulation of the Marsian environment.