#Asia Virtual Reality has a place in our lives beyond entertainment value: AsiaVR’s Don Anderson

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The AsiaVR Association Co-Founder shares his views on virtual and augmented reality technology, and its applications to various markets such as advertising

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It’s quite clear that virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is more than just the tech world’s new toy.

Ever since its introduction to the gaming and entertainment industry, this technology has gained popularity and has now uplifted its rather playful tag. VR and AR technology are quickly becoming used for numerous pioneering applications that stretch from retail and advertising to medical disciplines such as physical rehabilitation and surgical training.

While we’re still some time away from having it embedded into everyday use and mainstream society, VR and AR technology is making baby steps towards it.

Don Anderson, the co-founder of the Singapore non-profit organisation AsiaVR Association, has played a huge part in helping to promote this technology through ways that include hosting frequent meetups that engage in debates and discussion. He has mostly focused on VR’s applications to advertising and content creation.

In an interview with e27, Anderson shares his views on what markets VR will disrupt, its applications and further advancements to the technology.

Here are the edited excerpts:

Which other markets do you see taking advantage of VR/AR technology soon?

Asia is showing promise, particularly China where recent reports suggest that we’re seeing increased investment in the VR consumer market and that the industry’s market size will triple this year from RMB5.66 billion.

Also Read: Virtual Reality startup SmartVizX raises over US$500K from IAN, Stanford Angels

While there is a bit of a grassroots movement occurring in Singapore, as demonstrated by increased interest in the AsiaVR Association, and other markets such as India and Indonesia, most of the advances and investment are US and Europe focussed. And this is not all that surprising given where most VCs call their home.

When do you think the adoption of VR/AR technology will be more ubiquitous?

Gaming will drive adoption rates, and most likely once Sony begins rolling out its PlaystationVR later this year. Social media is more likely to remain a 360 video experience for now, and experienced through more low-cost ‘devices’ such as Cardboard. We won’t likely see widespread virtual reality adoption until the devices and platforms become more affordable and a less cumbersome, more seamless experience.

An HTC Vive or Oculus set-up simply is beyond reach of the average consumer, and is primarily the current domain of developers or production houses. Ubiquity could be three to five years from today for virtual reality, if it isn’t usurped by another form of reality altering technology or platform.

Augmented reality has the potential of finding its audience at a faster rate given it is typically tethered to smartphones and mobile devices (such as Blippar, Google’s Project Tango). I’m rather eager to see what the leading tech firms do with visual search and AR in the next 12 months.

What do you think is the current rate of VR market adoption? Do you think this would accelerate in the near future?

It’s exciting to see the amount of discussion around VR. Much of it is hype — it’s the ‘new shiny toy’ and many companies and marketers are diving in without considering its proper and sustainable application. But that’s typically the first phase of a new technology’s evolution.

By the time we get to the second or third phase we’ll have hopefully weeded out those who have jumped on the bandwagon and reached a point where VR actually has a realistic point and place in our lives, beyond entertainment value. We’re starting to see the seeds of this in education and health care.

Also Read: Can virtual reality save Shanghai’s cultural heritage?

There are still quite a few doubters out there, casting aspersion on the space. But just give it some time — we’re likely to see similar displays of brilliant new commercial and content models as we saw arise from the post-dotcom 1.0 era.

Do you feel products such as the Samsung VR Gear headset and Google Cardboard headset are aiding VR technology when it comes to going mainstream?

Yes, absolutely. They’ve been successful in bridging the gap in accessibility. Although the technology is fairly lo-fi, these platforms have successfully introduced a broader consumer base to what could be possible through 360 video and VR. Google reported in January that more than five million Cardboard viewers had been sold since its introduction.

It’s also enabled developers to begin experimenting and establishing a healthy app ecosystem to support. But for the space to evolve, particularly in Asia, we need to see more developers working with experienced content creators who understand the complexities of storytelling and audience engagement. I don’t see much of that happening as yet. Instead, what we’re getting too much of is planting a 360 video capture rig in the middle of the room and capturing whatever goes on around it. That’s quickly losing its novelty. And in a year’s time, more smartphones will offer that capability.

What disadvantages do you see with the adoption of VR technology in advertising? Can a poorly made VR commercial have more dire consequences given that its so immersive?

To date we’ve seen some reasonably compelling uses of VR in advertising, such as Patron’s drone-powered VR tour of its distillery, Lockheed Martin’s bus to Mars experience, and Marriott’s virtual holiday vacation stunt. At the same time, there’s certainly been a few too many short-sighted attempts of brands to integrate VR, and this has largely occurred within the automotive sector as hurried efforts to capitalise on what’s new and cool. It’s technology for the sake of technology, not really for the purpose of providing anything of great value or meaning.

Also Read: Visual search, augmented reality: The next frontier for brands

Hard to say if this will turn consumers off VR in the long run, but it’s not doing a lot to help drive credibility for the industry. But we saw similar efforts by brands when the iTunes app store launched and there was immediate rush by brands to create apps that no one downloaded.

Does the bustling, fast-paced nature of rolling out advertisements conflict with virtual reality, since it takes time to produce?

Typical TV-based ad campaigns are usually months in the making, so I wouldn’t see a conflict here. I see more of a conflict with poorly executed brand-based VR efforts, and that may not always fall back on the time required to produce the initiative. The Patron campaign was seven months in the making, and it did well in terms of demonstrating the power of the technology, while earning the brand a lot of press coverage in the process.

What adjustments could be made to VR technology in the future? Could haptic technology make a presence?

To enable mass adoption the physical mechanics of VR need to be addressed. Not everyone is comfortable with wearing an oversized set of googles or headset, or willing to risk motion sickness from prolonged, or even short term, use. But again, it’s still early days of this latest renaissance of VR and as more OEMs rush into the space we should see advances in reducing the intrusiveness of the hardware and motion side effects.

Where things begin to get interesting is when VR and AR entwine to create a MR (mixed reality) experience. That seems to be the promise of Magic Leap. And going a bit further, we could see some interesting developments in neuroscience and virtual reality, an area that some companies such as Swiss-based startup MindMaze are exploring and successfully raising funds against. But we should expect that, no different from the early dot com boom, some of these initiatives may not realise immediate success.

What excites me most about VR is its potential to be able to capture memories and emotions and play them back like we are actually reliving them in the present. Camcorders and VHS machines allowed us to do this 35 years ago, social media and smartphones have taken it to another level, and VR is the next evolution.

My parents live in Toronto and are unable to travel long distances — I’m sure they would be thrilled if they could be “transported” to our house and into their grandchildren’s environment, exposing them to visuals, sounds and emotions they currently don’t have access to, outside of FaceTime or Skype. With continued advances in computer vision, neuroscience and haptics, we could have our Brainstorm moment after all.

What are your thoughts on the mysterious Magic Leap product?

Like everyone else who has been keenly following the hype and viewing the teaser videos, I’ll look forward to seeing what US$1.4 billion in financing from the top VCs and tech firms is able to produce. The worry here is if Magic Leap only delivers on a fraction of its promise, it could potentially send shockwaves of cynicism throughout the industry, and deter broader investment.

Also Read: Singapore startup raises US$5M using Co-founder’s own VC firm

I’d prefer to remain optimistic that the heavyweights backing this little seen technology know what they’re doing. I also wouldn’t count out the possibilities of Microsoft’s HoloLens initiative.

Still, as Elon Musk has suggested, perhaps we’re already living in one massive simulation. And if that’s the case, we may just be trying to duplicate efforts.

Want to hear more of what Don Anderson has to say about virtual reality? Don’t forget to secure your tickets to Echelon Asia Summit 2016 this June 15-16 at Singapore EXPO! e27 fans only: Enjoy an extra 20% off with promo code *SUMMIT20*!

The post Virtual Reality has a place in our lives beyond entertainment value: AsiaVR’s Don Anderson appeared first on e27.

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