At Progress Telerik we’ve been on the AR VR journey for more than a year now. The path has always been challenging and rewarding and it is now even more exciting. We learned a lot, made some mistakes and even shifted our initial strategy. In this post we will look retrospectively at our findings and talk about the new path that we’ve taken.
This post assumes that when we talk AR VR, we relate to Head-Mounted Devices. Smartphone AR VR is out of our scope today.
Before we continue, we have an important and super exciting announcement to make: a completely new and redesigned page that fully matches our current vision, strategy and short-term roadmap is now live on our company web site!
We will keep this page updated with our latest product announcements and plans. This is also the place where you can reach out to us and/or subscribe to our news and updates.
Besides some plain text that explains where we are heading to and what problems we solve, the page also features delightful graphics and several exciting videos, including a 360-degree panoramic capture of one of our applications. We have even enabled our recent DataViz applications for download, including complete Unity3D projects and source code!
In case you are already curious to see our new web face in action, please go ahead, you may continue reading the post afterwards :)
A Retrospective Look Back
We are developers. It is in our DNA to help other developers and businesses solve their challenges in an elegant and efficient way. Our long-term mission is to democratize the AR VR business application development and reduce the entry level barrier for developers. One way to accomplish our mission was to start building what we have most experience with — a set of UI and non-UI tools, frameworks and components for Unity3D that would reduce the entry level barrier for developers and would eliminate the need for complex user experiences to be continuously reinvented for each and every application.
Naturally, we took that path. If you remember our first post, it was published straight after Microsoft Build 2018, where we publicly revealed our Company’s plans to invest in this space. We imagined that once we create our initial UI for AR VR offering developers would jump on it and we will slowly start delivering on our mission.
Obviously that was not the case and we are on a different path today.
Early Market State of Affairs
You cannot sell components in an early market. There is simply no need.
We learned that from the feedback and traction that we gathered after MS Build ’18. Which was close to zero. Although related to Microsoft’s HoloLens 1, this post summarizes our findings back then. The following list outlines our most recent conclusions:
- Most of the businesses are looking to enable AR VR in some form and take competitive advantage from this technology but they struggle to find a valuable use case that’s worth investing in.
- Often times businesses have this emotional barrier to use today’s AR VR hardware as it is far from being socially acceptable. They would rather stick to conventional methods for solving a problem than putting a helmet on their heads.
- This is a completely new technology. The development stack heavily involves 3D and game development-like expertise, therefore most of the businesses lack AR VR R&D team(s) and consider applying this technology expensive, with a steep learning curve and with significant initial investment.
As you can tell from the list, what we were trying to solve was directly the third problem — to make the development far more easier. Needless to say, that won’t work until the first two problems are solved. That is, valuable use cases to be defined and businesses being able to see value in the technology. Only then will they be ready to challenge their socially-related barrier of putting a helmet on.
What Else Could We Do?
We spent a lot of time to think what to do and how to do it. We challenged ourselves to leave our comfort zone of building what we can easily do — UI for AR VR — the truth is that the market is simply not there. Instead, we decided to tackle the first two problems first.
While this may sound easy, it was challenging to implement because:
- The use case(s) that we needed to find should clearly demonstrate the full glory of the technology.
- Most, if not all, of the business verticals where AR VR adds value are occupied with various solutions, coming from small to large companies.
- Our company builds horizontal solutions that fit multiple business verticals — our ultimate goal is to build a horizontal solution as well.
- Just a use case on a Power Point presentation wouldn’t suffice, the technology needs to be experienced. Thus, a working application should be demonstrated, instead of text and images.
Top Values of AR VR for Business
When we talk about “Technology Value”, we relate to:
Immersive experiences through Stereoscopic 3D
Like in 3D movies in theaters, Stereoscopic 3D is a technique that produces human-realistic sense of depth by displaying two slightly different images to the left and right eyes of the viewer. The ability is based on the characteristics of the human visual system.
This aspect of the technology makes our brain to literally experience every part of an application. It is just how our brain it works. The difference between conventional 2D displays and Stereoscopic 3D displays is like watching a movie of the Pyramids and being on a trip to Egypt.
Natural interactions with digital content
Much like in real life, we can interact with digital content through natural gestures. For example, if I need to push a button in VR, I would simply reach out and press it with my hand. Or, if I need to move an object somewhere in space I would simply grab and move it.
Truly social multi-people interaction and collaboration
Because of the human-realistic experiences in Stereoscopic 3D, sharing an experience with other people builds long-lasting memories. For example, instead of being bored to death at a remote meeting, why not have it in VR where you can interact with participants as if they are next to us?
What is the single property that is across all business segments. What lies in the pulse of every business? The answers are simple — it is data. Visual communication — or Data Visualization as we call it today — has always been a significant part of humanity. Technologies change, new ones are invented, data evolves but producing visual means from a raw data-set will always be part of how we interact with information and ourselves.
Following that logical path we asked ourselves — can AR VR add value to the way we visualize data today? Can Data Visualization take advantage of the above listed strengths of the technology?
We did some experiments and were blown away by the enormous value Stereoscopic 3D adds to seeing even simple data:
- Many people will argue that data is best seen on 2D. That is true, given we talk about 2D-displays. 3D on a 2D display is almost every time a bad thing to do. But it is a completely different story when you see 3D on a 3D display. And when we talk about Big and Wide data, these human-realistic 3D experiences offer enormous potential, unexplored before.
- Using human-natural interactions like moving charts all around the place, zooming in-and-out, walking through the data and seeing it from different angles, improves readability and understanding of data multiple times.
- Presenting data to other people in VR takes full advantage of the social-like collaboration experiences and contributes significantly to the collective understanding of data.
VR or AR?
After we defined our path and strategy, we needed to choose the right device that is suitable for displaying data visualizations in the most optimal way in terms of image quality, field of view and price.
The requirements that we have are:
- As large as possible field of view. Big or Wide data requires significant virtual space and viewing angle. The minimum acceptable angle is 100 degrees diagonal.
- Stand-alone. Pitching a use case that requires tethering machine would be less appealing than a stand-alone device that one may carry anywhere on the planet.
- Affordable price. One of the barriers for businesses to embrace the technology is the investment needed. We defined a price tag of a maximum $800.
Where is AR Today
This engineering masterpiece features:
- MEMS displays, 52-degrees diagonal field of view
- Full hand and eye tracking for natural interactions
- Perfect balance for long hours of comfortable hands free work
- Pumped up with field worker productivity software
- Azure software sharing HoloLens, iOS and Android experiences
- Enterprise oriented
Producing AR capable hardware is orders of magnitude more complex than building VR hardware and this explains the $3500-ish price tag on the device.
Although a solid device, HoloLens 2 is incompatible with our requirements of 100+ degrees field of view and $800 or less price tag. These aside, the device, as it is designed, is practical for a variety of enterprise use case but these are already taken.
Where is VR Today?
We have a stand-alone Oculus GO device with a price tag of $200, and we are expecting Oculus Quest any time soon: “Coming in 2019. Starting at $399”.
At a nearly “impulse buy” price tag you get:
- Same FoV as desktop attached Oculus Rift — that is 110 degrees diagonal
- Tracking with 6 DoF touch controllers for natural interactions
- Shared arena-scale experiences
- Excellent image quality
There is a trend there, based on the better imaging capabilities and availability of VR devices — higher FoV, real life-like imaging, completely immersed experiences.
While AR is more exciting and somewhat more socially acceptable when working with multiple people in the same physical room, its price tag and limited visualization capabilities turn the tide in favor of VR.
The Future of Data Visualization
We believe AR and VR at some point will converge at a single device that will be capable to deliver both kind of virtual experiences and anything in between. Somewhere along that road AR may become better suited for Data Visualization and thanks to the cross-platform support from Unity3D, our solution will run on AR devices as well.
10 years from now we expect a single socially acceptable device that can deliver both AR and VR experiences, to be wildly available at offices. At that point the decision whether the application will run in AR or VR mode will finally be made on business needs instead of hardware capabilities.
- Executive live meetings that happen in the same physical room will use the devices in AR mode. These will be capable to deliver report experiences far more richer than traditional 2D displays.
- Remote meetings will use the device in VR mode. These will share environments, avatars or video presence and will transfer micro-expressions. That would be a far better communication channel than 2D video conference calls. It will make people feel they are in the same room. And again, it will be capable to deliver report experiences far more richer than traditional 2D displays.
You can capture a glimpse of that future:
Back at Microsoft Build 2018 we had a fully functional data visualization demo displaying the bitcoin stock movements. The enthusiasm about the demo was huge, however the benefits of the third dimension were mitigated by the form factor, FoV and price of the device.
Now Microsoft Build 2019 is on the door step. HoloLens 2 is a very strong release. But at this point it is focused primarily on enterprises and field workers. It will take few years before miniaturization and mass production can cut the shape and cost of the device enough to bring AR to the state where Data Visualization will shine.
On the other hand VR is already here:
The VR field is fully saturated and competition has already pushed the hardware and software to a point where Data Visualization can show its full potential.
We will take the VR Data Visualization path, aiming to help businesses find valuable use cases for AR VR and apply the technology successfully today. One of our long-term goals remains a comprehensive framework of reusable components and tools, but this will happen gradually, after the market picks up.
Technologically, we are backed by Unity3D, which is one of the very few truly cross-platform frameworks. This ensures that when AR as hardware picks up we will be prepared. Unity3D also enables us to deploy to literally any VR device that exists today and will be born tomorrow.
To fully demonstrate the potential of Data Visualization in VR, we created two completely functional applications available for download. Head-on to our new page and see what we have there for you:
Thank you for reading this post! As usual — feedback is gladly accepted — please feel free to share it with us either on post’s comments or at our email:
Happy experimenting and we look forward to hearing from you.