Top XR Stories of 2019

Alice Bonasio
Dec 20, 2019 · 9 min read
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A lot has happened in the immersive space over the past 12 months. What’s in store for 2020?

If it’s true what they say that time flies when you’re having fun, then 2019 must have been a really good year for immersive tech, because here we are gearing up for the holidays and I haven’t sent a single Christmas card. Literally, where has this year gone? Still, it has been such fun looking back at all the milestones we’ve experienced in immersive computing over the past 12 months, and I actually had a hard time picking out just 25 of them to share again with you.

These stories are ranked in no particular order, and are a mixture of some pretty momentous stuff that has happened in the industry and a sprinkling of use cases that illustrate how these technologies are already impacting every aspect of our lives. When taken together, a pretty compelling picture starts to emerge of the paradigm shift towards spatial computing, and as we look back at the last year and wrap up another decade, it’s a reminder of how far we’ve come, and what’s in store for the future. Will the 2020’s finally hail the age of XR? I think they very well might, and hopefully, we’ll stick together on that journey.

The Oculus Quest was a hit

At this year’s year’s E3 conference, Facebook’s Vice President of Special Gaming Strategies that the Oculus Quest was seeing “console-like” engagement from users, in first 2 weeks since the device started shipping back in May. In fact, the at retailers such as Amazon, Walmart and Newegg. Since then, Facebook has continued to roll out new features such as and , which allows users to experience PC VR HMD quality on the standalone headset. By October, it was reported that Oculus Quest sales were responsible for significantly , which jumped to $269 million during the third quarter, a 43% year-over-year increase. “Quest is growing and doing quite well. We’re selling them as fast as we can make them, the demand has been strong and the content is starting to pick up,” Mark Zuckerberg said at the time.

HTC Vive Retires

2019 said good-bye to the headset which was largely responsible for enthusing people about the possibilities of VR in recent years. The was phased out in October, replaced by the , which was priced at $699. But although industry pundits such as Venturebeat’s Dean Takahash called the new HMD an “engineering marvel” it came with a number of difficult trade-offs in terms of cost, visual quality, accessibility, and mobility.

Bumpy Road For Magic Leap

As the year draws to a close, things are looking rather worrisome for what is arguably immersive tech’s most hyped-up company. First came the news that the company had to JPMorgan Chase as collateral, closely followed by announcement of a new , culminating with key including CFO Scott Henry and Senior VP of Creative Strategy John Gaeta (a special effects industry veteran who has worked on movies such as The Matrix). Magic Leap then announced it was following of extremely weak sales. Taken together, this could signal challenging times ahead for the start-up and possibly have a on the AR industry as a whole.

Cows Like VR Too

Dairy farmers in Russia started testing Virtual Reality on their dairy cows. , a Research Fellow in Human-Computer (and Animal-Computer) interaction at the University of Melbourne, there is little evidence that the cows appreciated the content on the same level as we might, but argued that seeing animals interacting with technology could positively impact their lives by changing our persceptions and creating an empathetic bond between people and animals.

Google Ends the Daydream

The key message to come out of Google I/O this year was that the company largely abandoned its plans to push forward the development of headsets and content for VR effectively and features for the Google Lens instead.

Trippy VR

The ‘Cyberdelic Incubator’ in Melbourne, Australia, is promoting a more conscious approach to technology through immersive media. The group’s lead that XR’s power to instigate empathy can help us create more meaningful human connections, allowing us to experience what it’s like to be another gender, or to have a mental health condition such as schizophrenia. One of the incubator’s projects “” even went as far as simulating a near-death experience, and was subsequently adapted for use with palliative care patients.

Immersive Masterpiece

Visitors to the Mauritshuis museum in Holland were able to step into Rembrandt’s haunting painting “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” which was painstakingly recreated — with actors standing in for each character in full period costume and makeup — and captured with 600 reflex cameras to produce 3D scans. The intention, says Dutch design agency CapitolaVR, was to ‘create a portal to the past, to the moment the painting was created.”

#MeToo

The words of sexual assault survivor Chanel Miller were undertaken by her fellow students at Stanford following a dispute with the university about how her ordeal should be memorialized. The “Dear Visitor” guided AR exhibit placed her own words, spoken in court, on the spot of the attack she suffered. “It goes beyond what a physical plaque could do,” says Hope Schroeder, a graduate who was part of Stanford’s augmented reality club, 4 AR/VR that developed the project.

Sony’s Next Move

Although the PSVR has proven to be the most commercially successful VR hardware to date — selling over 4.2 million units so far — there are high expectations that its next generation headset will including wireless connectivity. At the same time, the company has also signaled that it is not ignoring the Augmented Reality market, launching a frankly awesome AR location-based back in October.

Valve’s Long Game

In June Valve priced at a hefty $999, which got mixed reviews for providing a good experience, but only under very controlled circumstances. In short, the headset was hard work to setup properly and not very user-friendly. But the company’s ace in the pack was yet to be revealed in November, when it announced that its would be released as a VR exclusive in 2020.

Nintendo Dips it Toes Into VR

Arguably the best-loved company in gaming, there is always excitement whenever Nintendo starts to dabble with VR, and the success of the was proof that the company could actually have a better chance of enticing the average consumer to engage with immersive tech than some other bigger players in the space, not least because they still hold the IP for some of the world’s all-time most popular games such as Super Mario and Zelda, both of which were .

Virtual Immortality

A $2.5 million project funded by the Dallas museum and created by Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation as a hologram able to share his WW2 experience with future generations. The project involved a week of filming, during which Glauben was captured answering over 1,000 questions by 18 cameras placed at 9 different angles.

Rising From The Ashes

Following the devastating fire at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, visitors turned to VR to experience the magnificent building and its destroyed iconic spire. Several remain available, highlighting the potential of such immersive technology to help preserve at least the essence and significance of historical monuments for future generations.

Talk Show Fun

Jimmy Fallon has proven to be a bit of a VR champion, showcasing it in fun ways on mainstream media. In April the Tonight Show host played against Captain Marvel star Brie Larson, followed by a hilarious game of with Kristen Stewart, Gaten Matarazzo of Stranger Things

Holographic performances

Artists have embraced immersive tech with gusto in 2019. Bjork launched her album, David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” character was with real-time motion capture technology and at the Billboard Music awards alongside no fewer than five of her Augmented Reality personas. Meanwhile, by GRAMMY award-winning singer/songwriter H.E.R. and Dean Takahashi tested an app that let him at a live Elton John concert.

Virtual Worship

Churches across the US are embracing technology, including conducting whole services in Virtual Reality. “We are leaving the information age and entering the experience age of VR and AR,” said D.J. Soto, pastor of , where roughly 150 avatars regularly attend services in AltspaceVR. Soto believes these virtual churches are much more inclusive, allowing for conversations to happen which would be difficult in physical places of worship.

Snapchat

Snap has emerged as a major player in the AR space thanks to its popular filters and lenses, even releasing a version of its proprietary hardware. Most significantly, however, 2019 has seen a creative community start to grow and around the format. AR lenses were used to promote blockbusters such as “” and “” or the new latest adaptation of Philip Pullman’s “” as well as indie films such as which turned users into a character from a classic ghost tale for Halloween.

Training for Just About Anything

By far the most compelling use case for immersive tech at the moment is in training and simulation, and those applications are virtually endless. From teaching firearms safety to to helping train police in or how to cope with hostile job interviews, all the way through to a “” (which does exactly what it says on the tin) and even an active shooter training which was deployed in the experience to help its employees prepare for such scenarios following recent shootings.

Losing One’s VRginity

No technology can be considered successful if it doesn’t attract use cases in the adult industry, so it is actually encouraging to see stories emerging such as that of porn company VRBangers charging couples around $15,000 to make their own , or of Anna Petukhova, a Russian fashion model and entrepreneur who launched a global franchise of called VRayu, which caters equally for men and women looking to explore their sexual fantasies in a safe virtual environment.

Shut-Downs and Acquisitions

One notable casualty in the AR ecosystem this year was Daqri, which in spite of raising $275 million in overall funding. There were also some significant acquisitions in the space, such as , and .

VR Therapy

A documented the therapeutic effects of virtual body swapping. Results showed that subjects holding conversations with themselves — while — showed improved mood compared to talking about problems in a virtual conversation with pre-scripted comments. Researchers believe that this method could be a useful tool for clinicians in the future.

MacGyver Escape room

MacGyver creator Lee David Zlotoff teamed up with “Lawnmower Man” director Brett Leonard to create a called MacGyverWorld slotted for release in 2020. The experience will use 3D capture technology, which scans participants as they enter a location-based VR venue so that friends can see each other as holograms and work collaboratively.

HoloLens Army

A version of the has been tested by the US Army earlier this year, following an announcement that Microsoft accepted a $480 million deal to supply thousands of HoloLens units to the army, in spite of strong objections from many of its employees. The system — which is still in prototype phase and is not expected to deploy until 2022 at the earliest — also collects data to highlight areas that need improvement and further training.

Minecraft

After releasing a in May and unveiling the of “Minecraft Earth” at Apple’s conference in June, Microsoft proceeded with gradually rolling out what was arguably the most anticipated AR title of 2019 with a in several cities including London and Seattle in July, followed by broader public releases in the following months. As of the end of November, the game had reportedly downloads.

Tech Trends offers a broad range of Digital Consultancy services to guide companies, individuals and brands in effectively leveraging existing and emerging technologies in their business strategy.

Alice Bonasio is a and Tech Trends’ Editor in Chief. She also regularly writes for Fast Company, Ars Technica, Quartz, Wired and others. and follow on Twitter.

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Alice Bonasio

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Technology writer for FastCo, Quartz, The Next Web, Ars Technica, Wired + more. Consultant specializing in VR #MixedReality and Strategic Communications

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Alice Bonasio

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Technology writer for FastCo, Quartz, The Next Web, Ars Technica, Wired + more. Consultant specializing in VR #MixedReality and Strategic Communications

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Showcase for the latest disruptive technology that is changing the education landscape globally

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