The Quest for Commercial VR

Oculus Connect 5 conference reveals the latest advances in immersive technology


Developers, tech executives, and futurists gathered this week in San Jose, Calif., for the fifth annual Oculus Connect conference, a meeting of the greatest minds in virtual reality and a stage for Oculus to annually roll out major announcements. The technology Oculus revealed at this year’s event catapults the brand past other leading vendors in the race to commercialize VR technology for the general public.

Atop the ticket this year was the Oculus Quest, a new wireless, full-motion VR headset to be delivered in spring 2019. At $399, the Quest is competitively priced, offering more immersion and freedom of motion than the Oculus Go and more accessibility than the hardware-heavy Oculus Rift.

A few sophisticated technological upgrades further elevate the Quest. One is Hybrid Apps, a system bringing traditional PC applications to virtual reality. In them, two-dimensional software and three-dimensional models can be accessed in the same field of view, offering engineers and artists a way to test and manipulate models before making alterations in real life.

Quest’s biggest differentiator is full-room motion tracking and six degrees of freedom (6DOF), meaning users can navigate through virtual 3D spaces and interact with objects from above or below as they would in the physical world. This “Oculus Insight” capability is enabled by two handheld, motion-touch controllers and four wide-angle sensors built into the headset for real-time location and position tracking. Alerts appear over the display when users are in danger of bumping into surrounding objects like walls or furniture. Other headsets like the Rift and the HTC Vive require external sensors fixed throughout the environment to offer a full 6DOF experience, or a wired connection to a powerful computer, which limits range of motion.

Most VR apps today, especially those from Oculus, are focused on gaming—with themes such as western shooters, tennis, scuba diving, and Star Wars. The Quest is even referred to as a gaming system in a recent Oculus blog post. Aside from cost, one of the biggest barriers to VR adoption at the consumer and enterprise levels is lack of specialized content in realms beyond entertainment. Advanced and productive programs for geospatial applications like first response and EMT training, smart urban development, imagery and video analysis, resource management, and even communications haven’t been realistic or user-friendly enough for integrated use in the past, and largely still aren’t. But the Quest could open the door for programmers to design the first such applications ready for wider use, from procedural simulations to construction project planning to environmental surveying. The new headset indicates the speed at which VR is advancing and allows us to peek into Facebook’s imagined future for the technology (Facebook purchased Oculus in 2014).

Now, the onus is not only on programmers to create new and innovative apps, but on practitioners in all corners of industry, including the GEOINT Community, to demand such apps from VR providers.

Photo Credit: Oculus

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