As an industry of integrators we have learned to occupy and work within new spaces. Early on, this space was confined and limited by the confines of the technology. Today we slip, fairly seamlessly, through the overlapping venn diagrams of sound, video, lighting, shades, temperature and network. Now the world of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is on the precipice of becoming the next new space for integrators to work and play in.
Today we demand experiences that are more personal, those that make us not simply an observer but a participant. Meetings, museums and movies must engage us at the same level; we seek immersion. Whether we’re in the same room or on the opposite side of the globe, we demand to feel as if we’re in the same space. We want to see college classrooms in high definition, view what’s on the whiteboard in real time and gain instant access to collaborative tools.
Virtual reality and augmented reality will take us there. While the InfoComm 2017 show floor was not as rife with VR and AR as it was with mass symbiosis of the Apple ecosystem (and those riding its coattails), it was there. You just had to know where to look.
Atheer, Epson Demo Smart Glasses
The offerings range from systems connecting 3D cameras to the now nearly-ubiquitous smartphone VR goggles to fully involved 360-degree environments. The systems are intended to go beyond the gaming world and into the exciting practicality promoted by evangelists like Robert Scoble.
Atheer, showing in the Epson booth, demonstrated its Air Suite BT 350 smart glasses. Looking a bit like a high gloss version of the over the counter reader glasses, the BT 350 is about working in AR.
Sturdy and simple to adjust for head size and to fit over vision glasses, the unit is lightweight and surprisingly unobtrusive to wear.
The glasses were demoed with a few practical examples. Epson showed a typical museum guided tour/immersive meeting template, with the intent of providing more engaging animation and information related to the object viewed.
A more practical example shows the system in use as a “heads up” display for remote access information by technicians. Of course there is the obligatory drone cameras (yes! more drones!) to view the space below.
Immersive Technologies Pavilion
While a projector manufacture showing off a next-gen product is important, the Immersive Technologies Pavilion & Experience is telling, not just in the applications showed but also in who the sponsor is (more on this below).
First, the technology shown is impressive in scope if not always hitting the mark with practical applications. The pavilion has a mix of AR and VR hardware, showing off a realistic controlled ISS spacewalk, an AR experience similar to Epson/Atheer and a live VR of the panel discussion. The stations are fun and engaging.
The least impressive example, the live meeting, had some softness in the video and it was awkward to walk around the space. The less-than-stellar imaging could be chalked up to the convention center network and that the auditorium being filmed was mostly theatrically dark.
It should also be noted the the VR hardware is still a bit clunky and, when combined with headphones, had me feeling like the main character of Tommy. Changes are coming to the hardware to make it lighter and less claustrophobic.
Still, the experience left me wanting more.
Freeman Gets Into Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality
The Immersive Technologies Pavilion & Experience was sponsored by Freeman (Samsung is also listed for providing the monitors for those not wearing goggles). Freeman describes itself as an experience company, though most of us know it as the company that runs convention center facilities.
Freeman has been buying up AR and VR companies, and this showing is the next step into rolling out the technology and services to their venues and clients. The acquisitions provide them with a foothold in digital signage, museum and theme experiences as well as the more practical virtual walkthrough for shows.
What does this mean? The venn diagram may have just shifted.