Could you imagine, even ten years ago, picking up your phone and speaking to it with the realistic expectation that the device – not another human being – would speak back?
Well, that’s very much our reality today
Chances are you’ve asked Apple’s Siri, Android’s Google Now, or Microsoft’s Cortana a question. And chances are it managed to answer you back with clarity and precision, and faster than you could’ve searched online for the same content.
You might have asked for film times:
“Siri, when’s the next showing of Wonder Woman in Brixton?”
“OK Google, how do I get to the London Eye?”
Or advice while cooking:
“Hey Cortana, how many grams are in a teaspoon?”
And the truth is, we’re only scratching the surface when it comes to interacting with technology. Soon, you’ll be doing more than simply asking questions; you could be answering them too, all while enjoying full blown conversations with your devices.
VR: The Logical Next Step
What we’re able to do with technology today has been plucked straight from the realms of 1980s science fiction films.
Whilst our Star Trek heroes carried awe-inducing universal translators, the vast majority of us now walk around with incredibly powerful computers in our pocket and think nothing of it.
This smartphone-shaped piece of kit has allowed us to chat with our own virtual personal assistants, translate foreign languages, and even pinpoint our location from space. More recently, we’ve been able to hunt ‘pocket monsters’ in the real-world and explore immersive and exciting virtual ones by slotting our phones into VR headsets. What’s possible has evolved so rapidly in the last few years that the technological barriers we now surmount daily no longer provoke much astonishment from Joe public.
But we at HIROLA expect this trend of interaction to go beyond its current novelty value, resulting in a more fully formed virtual companion; one that understands our personalities and our preferences and is always learning and remembering in order to make our lives easier.
‘Why Yes Dave, I’d Be Delighted‘
Forget HAL and its dystopian outcome. We’re not talking about sentience (just yet), rather utilising emerging technologies such as VR to add value to our lives.
Picture it: instead of stepping out in the rain to go to the gym, you could pull on your VR headset and be put through your paces by a virtual trainer in the comfort of your own home. It’ll be the equivalent of watching Joe Wicks’ YouTube channel on your TV, except it’ll feel like he’s in the room with you.
Or for the foodies out there, imagine being able to tap an Augmented Reality (AR) app that puts Gordon Ramsay in your kitchen as you learn to cook. Just be sure not to burn anything, you donkey.
Hmm, or maybe you could swap Gordon for Nigella? Yes. Much more soothing.
Whatever the application, the possibilities for interacting with VR (and AR) are endlessly exciting. But there’s still some work to do to get us to that level.
It’s All About Rapport
Creating a seamless and life-like interaction requires a rapport with our virtual counterparts. To achieve the level of immersion needed to convincingly transport us into a virtual environment, we need to feel like we’re speaking or engaging with a fellow human being.
This means we’ll need to rely on smarter, more nuanced inputs. Having keyboards and controllers in the picture won’t cut it.
By removing real-world distractions and the reliance on manual inputs, such as a keyboard, our back-and-forth with virtual characters will take on a more natural feel. Sensors will track our movements, and voice commands will come to replace external controls, ensuring the experience is increasingly immersive and realistic.
It Works Both Ways
And it’s not just how we perceive the virtual characters; they must be able to interact with us in much the same way.
In creating life-like virtual beings, we need to get to grips with what it means to be human. The idiosyncrasies in how we move, walk, and talk, the tone we use, our breathing, or the direction of our gaze; all of this is vitally important to producing a character that can react and engage in a VR setting in a realistic way.
One delayed response, one unnatural movement, one answer that totally misses the point and the immersion is shattered, with you instantly reminded that you’re not on a beach in Bali but instead sitting in your living room with a VR headset on.
A Changing Landscape
If this level of detailed computer interaction can be achieved, (and all signs point to that happening), then life as we know it will be changed forever.
One revenue forecast predicts the value of the combined VR and AR industry will reach $120bn by the year 2020, with VR video games and entertainment apps leading the charge. Meanwhile, other lucrative fields such as education, architecture, military, and healthcare will also enter the fray with their own virtual reality technologies.
Of course, the pinnacle of VR interaction will be when we can go beyond the senses of sight, sound, and touch, introducing smell and taste into the mix to create a virtual world indistinguishable from our own.
However, we’re still some way off from plugging ourselves into the Matrix.
For the time being at least, VR and AR offer businesses the opportunity to really push the boundaries of their industry, and find new and interesting ways to solve problems and interact with customers. And that’s pretty darn exciting in itself.