Big things on the horizon

These last few weeks, I’ve felt a feeling of foreboding. Like there were big things looming on the horizon. Big things that would change the world as we know it.

These big things are still far off, and even bigger things maybe creeping up behind them, out of our view.

But added together, they might result in dramatic transformations in how we work, play, and learn.

Oculus Rift

This is the one getting all the publicity right now, because of the Kickstarter and all the videos coming out showing people playing with the developer kits.

The Kickstarter, in particular, brought in almost $2.5 million — ten times the $250,000 the creators were originally asking for.

And the videos are fantastic. Like the one below with the grandmother trying Oculus Rift for the first time.

But I’m also impressed by the combination of the Oculus Rift with other devices.

Like the video below, which combines Oculus Rift with hand-tracking.

Or this video, which combines the Oculus Rift with an omni-directional treadmill from Virtuix:

I want that treadmill. So bad. It’s supposed to have its own Kickstarter in May. I’m keeping an eye out.

Fast connections

Google has jump-started things with their Google Fiber rollouts in Kansas City, Austin, and Provo, Utah. But the telecom and cable companies are waking up.

AT&T has also said it plans to build a gigabit fiber network in Austin. Even smaller companies, like Wicked Broadband in Lawrence, Kansas, CenturyLink in Omaha and Vermont Telephone Co., are also getting into the game.

A gigabit is a thousand times more than a megabit. So, my current connection is from Charter Communications, and I pay extra for higher speeds. According to SpeedTest, I’m getting around 35 megabits of download speed, and just a little bit more than 4 megabits of upload speed.

So Google Fiber’s one-gigabit-both-ways connection is around 30 times faster for downloads, and 250 times faster for uploads.

More realistic virtual environments

Several companies are working on making virtual environments more realistic. And we’re getting close. After all, the iPhone screen’s resolution is already at the limits of the human eye’s ability to distinguish detail. Putting that kind of high-resolution screen into a device like the Oculus Rift would create very realistic environments, if backed by the right rendering engine.

Such as the Unlimited Detail engine from Euclideon, seen in the video below.

Or the Unigine Engine, from Unigine Corp.:

Even Second Life founder Philip Rosedale is in the race, with his new High Fidelity startup.

What it means

Put it all together, and we’ve got  the makings of a hyper-realistic, immersive virtual experience.

My big worry is that the new platforms will be proprietary and extremely expensive. And will result in a metaverse composed of giant content providers, instead of something like the World Wide Web, where anyone can put up a website. Or the hypergrid, where anyone can set up OpenSim and create a virtual world.


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Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China. Follow me on Twitter @MariaKorolov.

4 Responses

  1.' Paul E. Emery says:

    I agree that it looks like the super realistic VW will be hight cost rather then available to small IT firm graphic developeres I would give up all for a one click browser entry into an opensim developed envrionments. We should all hope the pixieviewer or someone else can bring this to market as something we can utilize.

  2. Thank you for the video clips and the news shorts about these technology developments. However, “foreboding” means a sense that something bad is going to happen. Is that what was meant?

    Likewise, as for the “big worry”, it’s good when companies earn money, employees are hired and development is fueled. Your reference to the World Wide Web as a model is a good example; at one time access to the Internet was very expensive, but today costs are generally low enough to ensure very widespread access. Why not imagine something similar would happen with new platforms in the future?

    I’m optimistic because of other examples that I see. In the field of high-end graphics development, the market is small and the costs of product development are high. Nonetheless, there are several entry points for every budget.

    In 3D, on the free end, there are products like Blender. Maya and 3DS Max are on the high end of cost at about $3500 (and about $500 a year in other maintenance related costs) and ZBrush is about $600. Studios benefit from the advantages of Maya which they pay for, and individual “starving” artists are nonetheless free to model high-end graphics with Blender. ZBrush has become a particular favorite of artists with some resources to apply to their toolset. It has not become a “winner-take-all” market of proprietary software.

    I mention this particular area of technology because it has some similarities to hyper-realistic immersive virtual environments: relatively small market, proprietary graphics-oriented technologies in constant development and many advantages for would-be participants if they can afford to become seriously involved.

    The reason more people are not 3D artists is market saturation. There is just so much demand for that particular niche of craft. In fact, right now the VFX industry is in turmoil over recent downturns at the studios. Likewise, there is just so much demand for virtual world environments. I hope that improves moving into the future, but unless people in general find it advantageous to make use of virtual environments, most things people want to do are more efficiently handled by other technologies at this time.

    Or, as in the case of education, which could benefit tremendously from virtual environment technologies, other factors come into play, such as the way in which most students prefer brick and mortar schools because of the face-to-face contact. They actively do not want to interact in a virtual campus. So, there is a lot of social change to anticipate along with improvements in technology.

    I suggest excitement over the advances that are being made. And if some of the early new platforms are pricey, give it time. History has shown that new technologies drop in cost dramatically over time – especially as even newer technologies are (always) introduced. And that should give us time to catch up in our pursuit of options as a connected society.

  3. Ener Hax says:

    “hyper-realistic” doesn’t directly equate to better =)

    books are still highly immersive, if they have great tales to tell =)

    •' Graham Mills says:

      True but books invite you to create your own virtual world which may vary between readers.