What you should know about Virtual (and Augmented) Reality

Editor's note: Find out more about the future of Augmented/Virtual Reality with Microsoft Hololens, at the Compute Midwest conference - happening November 2nd in Kansas City.

The figurative reality of widespread virtual (and augmented) reality is inching closer and closer. One such example of that is Microsoft's Hololens: The company announced last month their holographic technology will be made available for consumers to test out in one-on-one demonstrations at 13 Microsoft stores around the U.S. and Canada over the coming months.

Credit: Jorge Figueroa

HoloLens has lit up imaginations from techies and enterprises to teachers and academics who have been waiting patiently for the immersive invention come to market.

By simply putting on a headset that looks like a rather heavy pair of sunglasses, the user can see, hear and interact with lifelike, 3D objects in the real word. You could potentially watch an NFL game play out on your living room floor, for example.

And unlike similar products, HoloLens does not need to be plugged into a computer, allowing more flexibility and functionality.

The headset utilizes multiple frontward-facing cameras on the headset to scan the physical world and projects 3D images onto a pair of translucent screens hovering in front of the user’s eyes.

The experience, according to those who have used it, is eye-opening.

“There are two kinds of people: Those who think VR will change the world. And those who haven’t tried VR.” - Braveen Kumar, Shopify

While most of the promotion of devices like HoloLens has highlighted the impact the tech will have on gaming, experts say the implications are more significant and far reaching.


Credit: Isriya Paireepairit

As far as technology has come, we still rely on much of our imagination when it comes to education.

Imagine a history class where a student could see paintings of the Revolutionary War, read detailed depictions of it and even accounts of those involved. Virtual and augmented reality will add a new element to the classroom experience.

It will give the student the opportunity to visit sit in the harbor during the Boston tea party, walk through the battlefield at Gettysburg and sit next to John Adams as he signed the Treaty of Paris.

As belts tighten around school budgets throughout the country, virtual and augmented reality devices can provide a field trip with all the benefits and none of the cost.

Palmer Luckey, the creator of Oculus Rift, the VR headset, highlighted how significant the technology could be to education during a White House Google Hangout last year.

“We've decided, as a society, that there's some benefit in field trips; actually having hands-on experiences where we send people to do things. The problem is, it takes a lot of resources to do that,” he said. “What if you could not spend all those resources; if you could send not college students but any person of any age to go see the ruins as they exist today and as they existed during the height of the Roman Empire--that's something that's impossible to do today. I think virtual reality will make that possible.”


Pierre Lecourt

One of the biggest shifts in retail over the past decade has been online shopping. Why take a trip to the crowded mall in December when you can buy that new recliner from the comfort of your bedroom?

Well, it turns out that recliner is much bigger than you thought and the color just doesn’t look right. This is why while we’ve seen an increase in online shopping, we’ve also seen an increase in online returns.

HoloLens could change that. A consumer could potentially pop on their headset and see exactly how the chair would look in their room before he or she decides to buy it, still without venturing to a brick and mortar store. Retailers could use it to have more control over the shopping experience than ever before.

Free to operate outside the confines of their stores, they can walk the consumer through a fully immersive shopping experience as well.


Credit: U.S. Department of Commerce

Parents around the world have told their kids not to judge until they’ve walked a mile in someone else’s shoes. Well, now they can. Research utilizing the technology put users into an alternate reality in which they were a different race, gender or age and asked them to interact with the world around them.

The results showed that participants became much more empathetic when they took off the headset, displaying more racial sensitivity, a better understanding of those with disabilities, a greater respect for the environment and a heightened desire to help others.

As always, it’s important to not get too far ahead of ourselves. It will be a little while longer before the HoloLens reaches the masses (it’s still priced at $3,000) and researchers are still studying its long-term effects.

When you dive a little bit deeper, it's certainly hard not to get excited. Virtual and augmented reality technology like HoloLens could be a game-changer - beyond actual gaming.

It could have a profound impact on the way we raise and educate our children or simply how we interact with our world in all facets. Although headsets may cover our eyes, the future is bright.

Curious to learn more about what the future looks like with Augmented/Virtual Reality? You'll have the opportunity at Compute Midwest on November 2nd in Kansas City.

Learn from Alex Menzies, a leader in the Hololens revolution along with 8+ world class speakers.

About Alex

Alexander Menzies builds holograms of Mars.

He serves as the software lead for augmented and virtual reality development at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

His recent work includes an immersive tool used to operate the Curiosity Mars Rover called OnSight and a head mounted assistant for astronauts onboard the international space station called SideKick.

Alex is also the principle inventor of the NASA Photogrammetry Pipeline which is responsible for generating the most accurate 3D models of the Martian surface ever made.

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