Through an ingenious combination of high resolution displays, powerful processors, and spatial sensors, firms such as Google and Oculus were among the first to usher in a new wave of interest in virtual reality ecosystems. On their own, these technologies were fairly commonplace and had a number of applications, of which VR was only one. However, markets continue to expand with little signs of stopping, and individuals and organizations are discovering how XR technology can drastically change their lives for the better. With this in mind, companies should be on the lookout for the newest technological advancements that could be of particular use in this space.
Hardware and software solutions which can solve some of the current issues plaguing VR, such as cost, mobility, and ergonomics, will become instrumental in the next wave of flagship headsets, such as the hotly anticipated prototype from Oculus. Keeping abreast of the new developments in the field, which sometimes seem to come at breakneck pace, could help developers and manufacturers anticipate the direction of the market and help to acquire or strengthen a position therein. Here then are a handful of promising prospects that deserve close attention.
By now, the name "Magic Leap" must conjure up images of secret labs deep underground, populated with people in white coats and AR headsets straight out of Minority Report. However, their multi-billion dollar valuation is at least going somewhere, as the company continues to trickle out literature regarding the advancements made by their engineers in display technology and machine vision. One of its most recent and most intriguing advancements in the latter has to do with simultaneous localization and mapping, or SLAM technology. This refers to a computer algorithm's ability to observe and record a spatial environment while simultaneously acknowledging and updating its own position in the same environment. Researchers at the company have recently published a paper outlining Magic Leap's approach to SLAM employing convolutional neural networks, in order to run a functional computer vision system which is "fast and lean, easily running 30+ FPS on a single CPU.”
The implication of such a system is that Magic Leap's own upcoming AR headset would be employing deep learning techniques that even Google, the king of AI, would envy. If the headset were to encounter any success at all in a reasonable form factor, it could represent a hallmark in AR hardware and set a standard for the design of all future AR firmware.
The Incredible Shrinking GPU
Making waves in the news at the beginning of November, rival chipmakers Intel and AMD announced they would be collaborating on a new design for Intel's upcoming 8th generation mobile processors. The new design incorporates a proprietary bridge connecting an Intel processor to a bespoke AMD Radeon GPU, and purports to deliver "discrete performance-tier graphics experiences in AAA games and content creation applications."
An advancement in processor technology as Intel has described would represent a major upgrade in mobile processing power, which is especially relevant to high-end virtual reality. Users in a variety of cases, from individuals who value mobility and portability without sacrificing quality, to entrepreneurs attempting to deliver a highly immersive LBVRE experience, would value a computing solution that represented comparable performance to discrete graphics processing, while boasting reduced weight and lower operating temperatures.
Cloud Rendering, 5G, and You
As VR adoption rates in APAC continue to soar, businesses such as TPCast have reaped the benefits that come being the first to develop an in-demand accessory for a popular product. The TPCast Wireless VR receiver enables Vive users to use their devices completely tether-free, offering an unprecedented level of immersion and freedom while maintaining the high graphical fidelity and low latency of a traditional "wired" setup.
TPCast's next move promises to be even more revolutionary, as CEO Michael Liu announced the company's bid to work alongside wireless engineers at Huawei to create a cloud-computing system which would allow a significant portion of graphical rendering for a VR device to be done remotely and then delivered via a 5G infrastructure. This advancement could potentially carve out a new market niche for lower-end VR headsets capable of competing with current mobile chipsets with less costly processing components, More importantly, however, it could represent a major disruption in current content distribution and delivery pipelines by making more content available at a higher rate, as opposed to being pigeonholed into completely local storage of massive data files at average speed.
This list, while hardly exhaustive, is meant to demonstrate the speed and scale at which industry leaders are beginning to think about XR and what forms it may take for the future. As best practices continue to be developed, markets will hopefully push the most innovative and necessary advancements in technology to the forefront.