VR, AR and Immersive Computing

Virtual Reality

One of Google’s major announcements in yesterday’s keynote was the creation of a standalone headset for Virtual Reality (VR). Instead of using a mobile phone to render VR, the standalone headset will be high-powered and custom-built for a better VR experience. To do this without all the normal cables, PCs and remotes had a number of implications on the development of WorldSense, a version of Tango. WorldSense is a simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology complete with a Depth Sensor, Wide Angle Tracking Camera, and Relocalization skills. This technology made way for another one of Google’s announcements — Visual Positioning Service (VPS). It has centimeter scaling accuracy and — get this — can give you directions inside of a store. It analyzes its surroundings in real-time using the Wide Angle Tracking Camera to position your current location within a store. You can get directions to that weird screwdriver in Lowes you need to complete your latest DIY project. Google Lens will even help you find it on the shelf once you arrive using VPS. Multiple demos at Google I/O have used the phrase “GPS will get you to the store, but VPS will get you to the product.” I can’t wait to test this out this concept in the grocery store.

Augmented Reality

Jen Holland kicked off the Augmented Reality (AR) conversation by speaking about Expeditions. Expeditions is Google’s education tool that places virtual objects of interest (like a scaled Category 5 hurricane) in a classroom for children to explore. Using their Tango-supported phones, the kids are able to see the object from all angles and learn about the object together.

Immersive and Shared Computing

Sharing a virtual experience, like in Expeditions, hasn’t really been a focus for Google VR/AR until now. The standalone headset product prompted a series of updates to Daydream. Daydream 2.0 Euphrates includes an application notification dashboard in VR but also includes the incredible ability to share your VR experience. You can now Google Cast your experience in the headset to your TV to show your friends what you’re seeing and doing in real time. No Cast device near you? No problem. You can now record your experience and share on social media what you’ve been up to in your headset.

Tooling Advancements

None of this would matter if VR and AR wasn’t so difficult to build and facing adoption challenges. Google thought of that too, and has announced measurable advancements in tooling. To speed up development, they’re adding Instant Preview to editors and mobile devices so that the changes that you make in your editor are synchronized with your device. This allows you to rapidly go from coding to testing. What took upwards of 10 mins to compile and load to a device is now instant. Bravo, Google.

Graphics play a key role in having a realistic and immersive experience. Google announced Seurat today, an incredible, high-fidelity graphics rendering system that can display real-time, dense graphics on the small headset. Their example hooked me — Rogue One in VR. Seurat takes in thousands of polygons from multiple angles and optimizes the number of polygons to what the small screen can handle, all while maintaining the original experience. The result is spectacular and even works for dynamic objects in the scene.

As if that wasn’t enough of a gift to the VR/AR community, Google also announced that the Chrome Browser is coming to VR. You can browse on Chrome, instantly moving in and out of WebVR content on your headset. Additionally, they’re bringing AR to Chrome — WebAR. They demoed a Wayfair app that allowed you to measure the space you want to fill with furniture, filter by furniture type and size to fit the space, and then try that furniture out in your space using AR.

Exciting times!

I’m blown away by Google’s advancements and it’s clear that WebVR and WebAR are becoming priorities for successful and engaging user experiences. From retail, to cinema, to gaming, to school, and even at work — VR and AR are shaking up our norms and connecting us with immersive computing in new and exciting ways.