Raven Zachary is the co-founder of Object Theory, a Portland-based agency developing mixed reality apps for Microsoft HoloLens and Windows Holographic. “We work with organisations to design and build experiences for Microsoft HoloLens, and the OSHA Windows Holographic that runs on the HoloLens. We focus on everything from early strategy to design thinking UX, development and delivery,” says Raven.
In a recent presentation for Hacker Unit, he talked us through how the distinct ecosystems of VR, AR and mixed reality overlap, and why they’re poised to converge. “VR is kind of on this very aggressive growth curve. I wouldn’t say it’s halfway through its maturity, but it’s a much brighter market focus right now than the others,” he says.
Raven believes that a palpable shift is taking place in entertainment. In the past, our amusement seeking placed us in front of an assortment of rectangles: TV, cinema, laptops, etc. However, facing screens to get our thrills is morphing into something completely radical: putting humans at the centre of that experience.
Up until recently, we have been outside of the experience, observing these rectangles. And now we’re moving into a period of time when we are in the technology.”
“As a human species, we have, for the last 50 or 60 years, been taking in content through rectangles – two-dimensional, flat rectangles – so televisions; PCs; laptops; tablets; smartphones; smart watches.” Raven emphasises the change from being the passive observer outside of the experience, to being immersed within a digital experience. “This has some very far-reaching opportunities and some very far-reaching, kind of existential, philosophical topics that I won’t get into,” he says.
HUMANS CRAVE IMMERSION
Think about our physiology as a species and the ways in which we interact with our natural world. We do so using a depth interaction with our hands and feet, and our bodies. We move and interact in three-dimensional space. “But, up until recently, we have been outside of the experience, observing these rectangles. And now we’re moving into a period of time when we are in the technology, and the technology is actually affecting our experience,” says Raven.
This fundamental shift, of looking at rectangles (i.e. screens) as opposed to being immersed in them, Raven argues, is more natural to our physiological experience of the human condition. “We’re moving towards technology that’s actually much more complimentary than what has been historic.”
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
Raven Zachary was an industry analyst for part of his career and, as such, he enjoys looking at and segmenting markets. His professional experience is a series of “technological epics”, as he puts it. The internet was a focus early on, which led him to work for a couple of startups, including Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Excite (remember the search engine that lost the war to Google?). Following this, Raven got heavily and happily involved in open source. Specifically, he became an industry analyst tracking the disruptive impact of open-source tech on commercial software markets.
I think we’re going to ultimately get to a place where AR and VR and mixed reality are one device in one platform.”
So where does VR enter the picture? As a high school junior, Raven picked up a copy of Rolling Stone and was inspired by the early work of Jaron Lanier and VPL Labs. VR, around this time, was focused on academia and defence. Come the mid-’90s, the internet was becoming the hottest thing and the miniaturization of technology soon followed. This, combined with higher resolution and greater battery life, reignited the VR conversation. When Facebook acquired Oculus Rift in 2014, Raven became thrilled about VR hitting the mainstream.
“Virtual reality is still very much hardware- and platform-focused because it’s fairly new and we’re still trying to figure out who the players are going to be. But there is this emerging software and services ecosystem. We’re in this period of divergence right now, where the augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality ecosystems are distinct,” he says.
The new moon coming is convergence – a term we often hear at the beginning of a technological shift. “In this case, I think we’re going to ultimately get to a place where AR and VR and mixed reality are one device in one platform,” he says. “There are going to be competing hardware tools and software ecosystems.”
That said, there are a few things holding convergence back. “We need to have better optics, larger fields of view, the ability to have shutters so you can block light or transparency coming through the lens, for a fully immersive experience.” In addition, battery life must improve for wearables, CPU and GPU will be key, as well as price. “There’s been some early backlash from Google Glass failures, and I think there are perceptions of the VR community by the general public that will have to get worked through. And we need to have more early proof points that all of this stuff’s going to come together and work,” says Raven.
This article was based on Raven Zachary’s recent talk for Hacker Unit’s AR/VR season. Learn more here.
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