Siggraph 2017 Highlights Bright Future for Commercial Virtual Reality in Entertainment and Beyond

We’re a team of three, all loaded down with protective gear – bulletproof vest, helmet and a hand gun. I’m feeling the adrenaline rush of approaching a vacant building that reportedly houses a band of criminal offenders that are armed and dangerous. Shots are fired, taking cover I see the target through the second-floor window, I take aim and discharge my weapon. My team provides cover as I move toward the target, more shots are fired and I feel a burning sensation in my left arm - I’ve been hit.

VR Will Transform Our Lives

Who knew speaking at Siggraph this year would require combat training? This hyper-realistic training environment, shown below, was one of many commercial VR experiences that are demonstrating the true potential of VR beyond gaming and entertainment.  Industry insiders are predicting that commercial VR will outpace gaming applications dramatically over the next several years as businesses of all types and sizes are utilizing the technology to improve their products and services.

The case uses of VR to change the way we do business are endless and will absolutely transform our lives. There is not one industry that won’t be impacted by the advancements we’re seeing and many industries have already been transformed.

Commercial Case Uses, The Future is Now

This year at Siggraph the VR demos went beyond gaming as businesses are beginning to harness the power of VR to change the way they operate, in some cases LITERALLY. Doctors and healthcare specialists are using virtual reality applications to better prepare for complex surgeries, allowing surgeons to see inside the human body in new ways and improve patient outcomes. Patients themselves are also using immersive VR experiences to help manage chronic pain and improve their quality of life. Firsthand, a company piloting the use of VR for treating patients has developed a game-based experience that uses biofeedback to help track a patients response to the VR environment. The application allows the patient to see a visualization of their heart rate and through a series of activities gradually begin to lower their beats per minute. This type of immersive environment allows patients an active way to approach their health and recovery and initial data indicates encouraging results.

Improvements in hardware and bandwidth have dramatically impacted training simulations and many companies are capitalizing on these advances. Motion Reality has developed extremely realistic training environments that offer a multi person, untethered VR experience. The training simulations are being actively used to help train police and military personnel as well as professional sports teams. The freedom to move around the virtual space allows for a much more natural and immersive experience and can better simulate a real-life situation such as a hostile encounter with an armed criminal or an offensive attack from the opposing team.

VR is also disrupting the way we design and showcase products. The automotive industry has adopted 3D virtual content applications to enable remote teams to collaborate more effectively and efficiently on new designs. These new models can then be shown to potential customers in a VR environment. Audi has leveraged the power of VR in their showrooms, allowing their sales team to show EVERY model of car to a potential customer not just the few that can fit into their physical locations.

Hardware Solutions Meeting Demands of the Latest VR Software

The compelling case uses above would not have been possible without the hardware advances over the last several years. HP announced their HP Z VR PC backpack at Siggraph last week and featured several customers already using the new device to propel their business objectives and better meet the needs of their customers.

The backpack is extremely comfortable and lightweight, weighing in at just over 10 pounds. The unit supports multiple HMD’s and allows for an untethered VR experience, providing the user the ability to move freely around the virtual space. The batteries are hot-swappable, so there is no down time to recharge. The unit includes an Intel® Core™ i7 vPro™ processor giving professional content creators and designers the CPU power required for heavy workloads coupled with the mobility required to engage with their virtual content in real-time.

The increasing CPU demands of the latest professional VR software packages require high-performance solutions. Intel® workstations offer up customizable solutions that will meet the needs of professional VR content creators and future-proof systems for the continuing innovations to come.

AR or VR? A False Choice

There has been much discussion about which technology – Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality – will eventually win out and be the solution for businesses to help meet the needs of their customers. This does not frame the discussion in the correct way – it’s not a black and white decision – but instead, a complex landscape that requires a blended approach. Both AR and VR are robust and promising technologies that can be customized based on unique business needs and challenges. The power of these tools is magnified when used together to bring virtual elements into the real world and real world elements into the virtual world. Advancements in technologies such as eye-tracking, bi-directional haptics, voice controls and hand controls will allow for much more natural interactions with blended environments. This will continue to push the boundaries of what is being done today and pave the way for amazing experiences that we can’t even begin to imagine.