The Top 10 Immersive Moments Of 2020
The tumultuous year of 2020 is coming to an end, and whilst it’s been a year full of extraordinary challenges that many may like to forget, it’s also been a turning point for the adoption of immersive technology as people embrace its unique properties to connect, play, train, and educate in new ways.
From major hardware news to Snapchat bringing us closer to the Metaverse, REWIND looks back over the year and picked out its top 10 happenings (in no particular order):
1. The Launch Of Oculus Quest 2
It wouldn’t be a 2020 immersive review without mentioning the most highly anticipated hardware release of the year — the Oculus Quest 2! After the success of the original, Quest 2 had some big shoes to fill, but it didn’t disappoint. Featuring a smaller, lighter headset, graphical improvements, better battery life, and a cheaper price of just $299, the Quest 2 saw 5x more pre-orders than the original.
Whilst the launch was extremely successful, it wasn’t without some controversy. The decision by Oculus to require a Facebook account to log into Quest 2 divided opinion amongst VR enthusiasts with privacy concerns being raised. However, according to Facebook, the move is all about enabling its VR headsets to be more social — a linked account lets Oculus users find Facebook friends in VR.
If you’re thinking of putting it on your Christmas list, here’s a full roundup of everything you need to know.
2. Apple Releases iPhone 12 Pro With LIDAR Scanner
Apple ushered in a new era for the smartphone when it released its latest model, the iPhone 12, in October. We got excited about the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max as they include a LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scanner, a feature that enables faster and more effective consumer AR.
LIDAR uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure distance and depth to create an image with more accuracy than a simple camera ever could. LIDAR allows the iPhone 12 Pro to boot AR apps a lot faster and quickly build a map of a room to add more detail. It also enables AR experiences to hide virtual objects behind real ones (occlusion) and place virtual objects on furniture around your home, making a more immersive and realistic experience. Historical fidelity, placement, and depth of field challenges will disappear, boosting what is possible with AR and enabling a new level of creativity.
Putting LIDAR scanners into the hands of consumers means 3D scans can be crowdsourced and pulled together faster and provide on-the-fly data. It’s the tech that will likely feature in the Apple glasses of the future.
3. Snapchat Enables Users To Join A Persistent Shared AR World
In October, Snap launched its first Local Lens on Carnaby Street. The collaborative AR experience, called City Painter, enables Snapchatters to join a persistent shared AR world built on top of the physical one, spray paint buildings, and see others’ creations in real-time taking us one step closer to the Metaverse.
Local Lenses, announced back in June, are an evolution of Landmarkers, which empower creators to build Lenses that transform the world’s most iconic landmarks in real-time. By taking in information from 360-degree images, and Community Snaps, a digital representation of the physical world can be built, and viewed from different viewpoints. Combining this with 3D reconstruction, machine learning, and distributed cloud computing, Snap can now map whole city blocks, rather than just buildings.
Qi Pan, senior manager of research engineering at Snap London said: “We have a single shared reality and when you do something to this world, someone else can see that result almost instantly. Those changes also persist if everyone leaves the experience and new people pop up the next day — they can see the space that’s been altered by yourself and others.”
Right now, Snap is in the early implementation stage of its AR space mapping, but we may well see interactive AR experiences coming soon.
4. Immersive Companies Help The NHS During The Pandemic
Over the past few months, we’ve seen many amazing companies turn their efforts to the fight against COVID-19.
One such company is Virti, a training platform that puts workers into high-stress augmented and virtual reality scenarios, where they can practice responding and receive feedback.
Virti’s immersive training solution was used to deliver remote educational programmes to NHS employees to show them how to safely apply and remove PPE, how to engage with patients, and also orient them in unfamiliar hospital environments. A company study found that Virti’s approach boosted knowledge retention by 230% compared with typical training, as well as users self-reporting lower anxiety levels when dealing with Covid-19 scenarios.
Another company doing great things in the space is Microsoft. Over three months, Microsoft worked with a consortium of NHS trusts, Medical iSight and Insight to use HoloLens 2 and Remote Assist to begin solving the problems of understaffing, capacity, and unprecedented circumstances.
Using Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, doctors wearing the HoloLens 2 on COVID-19 wards could be heads-up and hands-free. They can hold video calls with colleagues and experts from anywhere in the world. They can receive advice, plus interact with the caller and the patient at the same time. Medical notes and x-rays can also be placed alongside the call in the wearer’s field of view.
The main priority has been to use the technology to improve staff safety. The remote evaluations of patients and communication between specialist care teams have made this possible. A consequential outcome was to limit the demand for PPE usage, enabling supply to be adequately distributed between hospitals.
5. Enterprise VR Is Given A Boost With Impressive Hardware Launches
The progression in VR hardware for the enterprise sector has been immense this year, thanks to HP and Pico Interactive. Here are two devices that are well worth a mention.
Pico Interactive Neo 2 Eye VR Headset
Pico Interactive launched its Neo 2 and Neo 2 Eye VR headsets in May this year. With best-in-class 4K resolution, comfort, enterprise functionality, 6 degrees of freedom, world-leading precision eye-tracking, and spatial stereo speakers, Neo 2 has become a staple for a variety of businesses in sectors spanning from healthcare and education to HR.
The Neo 2 Eye made TIME’s list of Best Inventions this year. It’s easy to see why as it has integrated eye-tracking for enhanced mechanics and data gathering allows businesses to gain key insights into customer behaviour, reduce training time, and improve safety and productivity.
HP Launching Reverb G2 Omnicept SDK
Back in May, HP announced it’s Reverb G2 headset in collaboration with Valve. In September, HP unveiled an upgraded version — the Reverb G2 Omnicept Edition, which sees the addition of a face camera, multiple biometric sensors including eye-tracking and pupillometry sensors from Tobii, and heart rate sensors. The state-of-the-art sensor system measures muscle movement, gaze, pupil size and pulse, and transfers data to the Omnicept platform.
The data gives developers valuable insight into user’s natural responses to VR experiences to take training, wellbeing, creation and collaboration to the next level. In time, HP expects the facial tracking system will enable the avatars of VR users to share live facial expressions, which could almost eliminate the current stiffness of avatars. It is planned for release in Spring 2021 and we can’t wait to get our hands on it.
6. VRChat Hits Record 24,000 Concurrent Users
Social VR is more popular than ever due to the global lockdowns which have incentivised people to find new forms of communication and connection. Over the Halloween period, social VR app VRChat announced a record 24,000 concurrent users, 52% of those in VR.
VRChat allows VR and non-VR users to connect, chat, and explore other user’s worlds. These new figures beat the previous record of 20,000 concurrent users when the platform went viral on Twitch back in 2018. CEO Graham Gaylor told Road to VR that the launch of Quest 2 and virtual Halloween festivities during VRChat’s ‘Spookality’ event were among the reasons for the record number of concurrent users.
7. The Release Of Half-Life: Alyx
Bringing a fan favourite like Half-Life to VR was always going to be a challenge, but Half-Life: Alyx has exceeded expectations for fans and newbies alike.
Described by VR Focus as a “stunningly rich experience from start to finish”, the game is a perfect showcase for the potential of VR gaming. The game launched in the throes of a global pandemic and topped the best selling games list on Steam the month of its release and has remained in the top 5 ever since. It also won VR Game of the Year at the VR Awards in November.
For those that don’t know, Half-Life: Alyx is the story of an impossible fight against a vicious alien race known as the Combine, set between the events of Half-Life and Half-Life 2. Playing as Alyx Vance, you are humanity’s only chance for survival. The Combine’s control of the planet since the Black Mesa incident has only strengthened as they corral the remaining population in cities. Among them are some of Earth’s greatest scientists: you and your father, Dr. Eli Vance.
If you haven’t had a chance to get your hands on the game yet, it comes included with the purchase of a Valve Index, a headset that IGN has called “the best way to experience VR” and for very good reason. Valve pushed visual, audio, and ergonomic technology to the limit to create a best-in-class VR experience, and it is by far the best way to experience the stunning visuals of Half-Life: Alyx.
8. Virtual Events Gain Momentum
Due to social distancing, organisers have had to re-think events this year and virtual reality has been adopted to give guests of concerts, conferences, and meetups a sense of presence in a time when everyone is craving physical experiences. We have seen some impressive projects come to light this year, here are two standout ones…
Back in July, the team behind Glastonbury Festival’s famous after-hours mini-city, Shangri-La, announced a virtual-reality festival called Lost Horizon. Lost Horizon brought the festival’s Shangri-La area to life with 50 acts across four stages via social VR platform Sansar. It attracted over four million viewers over its duration. Reach generated by live VR content totalled 11,792,896 people across the two-day event.
Helsinki VR Concert
A VR concert in Helsinki attracted over half a million spectators earlier this year. Headlined by Finnish rap group JVG, the virtual event saw 12% of Finland’s population tune in, and 150,000 viewers creating their own virtual avatars for the gig. It was held as part of a larger Helsinki tourist project called Virtual Helsinki, a digital twin of the city developed by Finnish company Zoan.
The project sets out to create an interactive city that can be explored and visited in VR for a variety of purposes including: tourism, shopping, training, concerts, simulations, and virtual citizenship. The Virtual Helsinki project aims to be a pioneer of the sustainable tourism movement, and by providing rich virtual experiences it can allow people to experience the culture of the city without having to physically travel there. The project does not expect to replace real travel once travel restrictions are lifted but instead wants to be an additional digital experience to complement the physical one.
9. OpenBCI Announces Brain-Computer Interface Specifically for VR/AR
In November, OpenBCI, the neurotech company behind the open-source brain-computer interface (BCI) platform, announced it was making a new hardware and software platform, called Galea, specifically designed for immersive headsets.
Why is this important? It will allow researchers and developers to measure human emotions, facial expressions, attention span, and interest level — and use it to create more tailored immersive content.
Conor Russomanno, CEO of OpenBCI, said “I believe that head-mounted computers integrated with human consciousness will drive the next major technology paradigm shift…We are providing the world with a playground for experimentation and development using multi-modal biometric data in tandem with next-generation wearable displays.”
10. The New Installment of Batman Uses Virtual Production
Numerous productions have been halted this year due to the impact of COVID-19, but some studios have turned to virtual production to get film and TV productions back on track.
Virtual production has already been used in high profile productions from The Lion King to Disney’s The Mandalorian. Now, Director Matt Reeves is utilising some of the filming techniques from season one of The Mandalorian on The Batman, the high profile relaunch of the DC Comics film franchise.
The movie, currently being filmed in the UK, is using virtual production techniques for some select scenes. The production team have pre-built practical sets in the UK, and a huge LED wall, driven by the Unreal real-time game engine, is being built around them to enable the creation of digital extensions and an immersive environment which looks and feels seamless to audiences.
This technology will only continue to be utilised by more and more filmmakers going forwards. In fact, Thor: Love and Thunder, will be using it.
It’s been a very different and difficult year for all, but just looking at the above it’s clear to see that it’s been an important, perhaps pivotal, year for immersive. We’re excited to see what 2021 will bring.