When the term ‘virtual reality’ was coined in the late Eighties it belonged to a world in the distant future – or a sci-fi movie. But, as Patrick – Preface Studio’s Lead Developer – discovered when he went to Web Performance London: Getting started with Virtual Reality in the Web, it’s starting to look like virtual reality is becoming reality.
At the event I got to use Google Cardboard virtual reality cardboard glasses and looking at the recent LA E3 Expo it’s clear that, while still niche (and expensive), gaming is what is driving this technology. Big businesses like Sony PlayStation, HTC and Marvel are spending big bucks developing VR. Already, you can play immersive games in which you are Batman, or Captain Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise, you are a bomb disposal expert, sweating over which wire to cut, or the star footballer listening to the crowd urge you on. But, just as the internet was invented for academics and has since changed the way we all live, other ideas are emerging about how VR could alter our daily lives.
Facebook bought Oculus Rift with the vision of connecting people and places, making meeting with colleagues on the other side of the world more than talk and an image on a screen. Facebook’s avatars hold glass spheres that expand to immerse you in a new world; the office, your home, Paris, Mars… you can take selfies, play card games, watch videos together and feel like you’ve all had a similar experience.
Making the virtual a reality
Chris Milk, American entrepreneur, director, photographer, immersive artist and CEO of Within is taking the idea further; his films take you to Africa, to a refugee camp and to the skies above New York but his vision is greater than this. He wants you to experience his dreams, to feel how he feels when he hears a piece of music. He believes that we are only at the beginning of a journey in which the ‘virtual’ in virtual reality will eventually be lost. Along the line, we’ll be able to experience moments as others do, to communicate with thoughts rather than words, understand how people live – in circumstances different to our own or coping with medical conditions – by experiencing their lives; we won’t have to read or watch a story unfold, we will be the story and experience it with all five senses. Milk wants us to experience empathy as never before.
At Preface Studios we love to help clients take ideas and turn them on their head; finding uses for new technology that have not been thought of before. Who knows where VR will end up? Perhaps, in not so many years, trainee surgeons will practise operations in VR and experience all the life-saving possibilities without the danger of failing; perhaps we will exercise on our treadmills but, in virtual reality, we will walk our dogs along the Great Wall of China or across the Mojave Desert. Perhaps the need to turn up at Glastonbury will be a thing of the past – you will be able to experience, with your mates, the music, the crowds, the smells on a perpetually perfect English summer’s day – no mud, no rain, no queueing for the loo!
So, why is Preface Studios interested? We think that before too long you won’t just show your product from every angle on your company website, you will be able to take prospective clients on a factory or store tour, they will take your product in their virtual hands and fiddle with the buttons, show it to colleagues around the world and decide how they can use it. Guests will tour a hotel or spa before they book, and other clients will build their ideas virtually for customers to test before they buy, and this excites us. The possibilities are virtually endless…