One of Boston’s many great, local interest groups – Boston Virtual Reality – held a tech demo meetup this evening featuring two hardware developers in the burgeoning fields of augmented & virtual reality – Meta and Leap Motion.
Before I tell you more, a quick sidenote to define these fields: virtual reality (VR) has, of course, been around in various incarnations for years – the latest variation centers around the invention of the Oculus Rift, an immersive headset that has stereoscopic screens for you to see content which pans and moves with your physical head movement.
Slightly different in concept, augmented reality (AR) also uses a headset but, rather than rely on an immersive experience created using screens, AR headsets (like Microsoft’s Hololens, which I wrote about not too long ago) superimpose digital images on top of your view of the real world – images you can interact with using your hands.
Tonight’s tech demo was held at Cambridge’s Venture Café. First up was Meta, who gave a demo of their headset technology and showed some examples of its potential uses, including in medical examination [picture] (they showed a great example of manipulating an image of the human body, separating the different systems, isolating one and “anchoring” it to a spot in real space) and gaming [picture] (using a card with a QR code, the Meta headset was able to read a QR code from a playing card and render a dragon on top of it).
Following Meta came Leap Motion, a company with a product I’ve known of for a few years – it’s a small, candy bar-sized device that connects to your computer via USB and enables you to use your hands to manipulate what you see onscreen. To the best of my knowledge, this device was originally released with an eye towards becoming an alternate way to interact with your computer, but Leap Motion has cleverly realized that there’s potential in joining their device with VR headsets, resulting in the ability to manipulate the virtual environment with your hands rather than a game console-like controller. To me, the Leap Motion has always seemed like a solution looking for a problem, and they may have found the problem with VR – time will tell.
Here’s a video illustrating the potential of the Oculus Rift / Leap Motion combo:
Now, for my money, I lean towards the AR camp – I’ve tried an Oculus Rift and, although the technology is very impressive, I find the sensation of being so disconnected by my surrounding environment very alienating. On the other hand, the notion of being able to superimpose useful information on top of the world around me is very exciting.
Overall, both of these fields are still in their infancy, but the technology has finally evolved to the point where we can see some real, practical application. I can’t wait to see how it shapes up!