An Interview with Cortney Harding on the future of VR and AR technology

Originally published at www.chaibhide.com on July 30, 2018.

There are many theories that reality is a mere illusion, that it is a figment of our imagination. However, we have the potential to augment that reality and even transform it entirely into virtuality. Technological advancements have empowered us to make this science-fiction our ‘reality’. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technology have developed rapidly in the last 5 years — we can now augment our physical reality with the help of a simple app, or step into a different world by simply wearing a pair of glasses.

This technology has the potential to transform our lives.

It can be implemented in fields ranging from art, music, and performance, to sports, education, and medicine. Unfortunately, these fields have been dominated with the visual medium, while excluding the 7,297,100 people who report having a visual disability in the United States. Visual impairments are not signifiers of intelligence or brilliance. Many people, such as Richard Turner, have preferred not being associated with their visual impairments due to the biases it creates in the minds of the people they interact with. Why then are we choosing to leave out 2.3% of the population when it comes to developing mixed-reality technologies?

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

In order to understand how a VR+AR agency navigates this upcoming technology space, and what the current challenges and limitations are, I interviewed Cortney Harding, Head of VR/AR Creative and Strategy at Friends With Holograms. Friends with Holograms is a young VR+AR agency taking on clients ranging from CBS and Verizon to Unity.

This is what I asked Cortney:

  1. Can you briefly describe what your role at Friends with Holograms entails?
  2. Would you say your work is more VR or AR?
  3. What drew you to the field of creating cutting-edge mixed-reality experiences?
  4. What would you say is the biggest challenge when you’re working on a project?
  5. Do clients approach you or do you approach potential clients?
  6. Do people who do reach out to you have a clear idea of what they want?
  7. How do you experiment, or brainstorm for new ways to create these experiences.
  8. In your articles, you touch upon various important topics related to AR and VR, such as art and activism, and the ethical considerations, changing behaviors, and also about providing users with unforgettable experiences. What are you most excited about?
  9. What would inclusivity look for people who are differently abled, for example, for someone with low vision?
  10. Where can we see trends emerging beyond marketing, art, games, and installations?
  11. What will the technology look like from in 5 years, in terms of people with visual disabilities or impairments? How prevalent do you think VR and AR are going to be in the next 5 years?
  12. How would haptics be incorporated?
  13. AR and VR are primarily focused on screens, some kind of visual interface. Complementary to that, there are haptic, or sound integrated experiences. But what would AR or VR look like if there was no visual aspect as all?
  14. 7,297,100, or 2.3% of this country’s population reports having a visual disability. Many of whom are completely blind. Do you know any work that is being done, that might not have any visuals at all?
  15. How does the team at friends with holograms address accessibility when you’re designing something for a client?
  16. You did mention how VR might be easier to design for someone who is blind. Without the visuals, I feel like there is a thin line between AR and VR. What would AR look like for someone who is blind?

Talking to Cortney was a great learning opportunity. Virtual and Augmented Reality technology has transformed experiences in bursts — with Pokemon Go, Daydream and Oculus, and with the rise of voice assistant devices such as Google Home and Alexa, there seems to be a general interest in assistive applications of these technologies. However,…

Read Cortney’s responses and my thoughts at www.chaibhide.com