On ubiquitous visual computing, the death and rebirth of the smartphone, and the self-driving car as web browser.
It’s 2025. My son hops into an Uber headed for university — his master’s program in robotics. A car that was designed completely in virtual reality; that was manufactured in a factory designed in virtual reality, and assembled using processes visualized in VR, by workers trained in VR simulations. A car that lives in a network of millions of self-driving vehicles, monitored by operators using augmented reality dashboards.
To pass the time, Lucian checks his social feed via a beautifully rendered AR display that transforms the mostly empty cabin interior of the car into an interface to his digital life. Then he calls up a Twitch feed to check on the latest vSports tournaments, and ultimately settles in to binge season 10 of Friends — because he’s feeling retro today. All of this is called up using a voice interface and explored with a combination of hand gestures and eye tracking.
Lucian’s TV watching is interrupted by an incoming call. It’s his mother Marina reminding him to eat. After a quick volumetric conversation with mom, he browses for food choices on Amazon, and redeems blockchain-based coupons to pay for his lunch… which is waiting for him when he arrives at school.
And that’s how my talk this morning at the VR Strategy Conference kicked off. I had the distinct pleasure of sharing a stage with Rikard Steiber, president of Viveport and SVP of VR at Vive, in a fireside chat about the future of immersive technology titled “VR 2025.”
After swapping origin stories, we each shared a vision of the world in 2025, starting with Rikard.
Rikard’s world of the future is one in which we’re no longer talking about VR or AR, they’re just part of everyday life. VR and holographic displays will be commonplace, and much lighter and comfortable — because much of the compute will be distributed in the cloud, or on devices that are decoupled from the display and untethered. Rikard dubbed this idea as the “death and rebirth of the smartphone.” That is, mobile computing isn’t going away, and in eight years, we’ll still be doing all the things we do on our phones today like making calls, sending emails, and watching movies. But because of advances in displays, visual computing hardware and software, and 5G networking, we’ll have a ubiquitous 3D infrastructure that allows us to put the processing power where it’s needed, and deliver amazing immersive content everywhere, in a variety of form factors, for both consumer and business use.
Me being me — I hadn’t actually prepared all of my talking points — I played off Rikard and spun the tale of the self-driving car of 2025. On the spot. Yeah, I’m that good — but the thing is, it wasn’t at all hard, because most of this is already happening. Big auto makers are experimenting with designing cars in VR, with the idea that someday we will dispense altogether with physical clay prototypes. Assembly plants are being visualized in VR, along with the procedures to do the assembly in VR training modules. And 3D physics engines are being used to perform millions of simulations per day to ensure safety before putting all those hunks of autonomous metal on the roadways.
Once our cars can drive themselves, what are we going to do in them on long rides? I already check my Twitter a hundred times on my average Uber ride home. But when these are self-driving, and we don’t need a front seat for the driver, what then? Auto manufacturers are already contemplating a redesign that includes in-vehicle entertainment centers that deliver a full menu of content. That will certainly start with flat screens, but as XR technology miniaturizes, and the other trends Rikard cited continue, it won’t be long before those entertainment centers become fully immersive, and offer a vast array of additional services, including e-commerce, social media, web search and — why not? — phone calls. Le phone est mort, vive le phone!
What could that look like? Will it be a Vive in a car? Probably not. In-air holograms? A lot can happen in eight years but that seems like a stretch. We’re probably talking a pair of smart glasses — per Rikard, wirelessly connected to an onboard device that does some compute locally but goes to the cloud for the hard stuff.
Some kids are already working on the design for all this.
To me, it doesn’t seem like too far-fetched of a vision for 2025.
And that’s just cars.