When I was growing up, I was a fan of the old “Thundercats” cartoon. In it, the main character would pull up his sword, look through the hilt (kind of silly, thinking back) and say something like, “Give me sight beyond sight,” which really made no real sense to see though time and space.
The screwy thing is that, with virtual reality, suddenly the idea of something you could look though and see beyond reality is close to real, or unreal, depending on the implementation.
Last week, our own Carl Weinschenk put together a slideshow that covers many of the virtual reality technologies and vendors. This week, let’s look ahead at some of the problems and benefits of being able to decouple what is real and what is imagined.
Let’s start with marketing because it is clearly the low-hanging fruit that many are putting a lot of technology behind. I’d met with Qualcomm’s Vuforia folks a few weeks back and played with the technology for a while. Using an iOS or Android phone and while running one of the apps linked to the advertiser, you could animate fixed ads in magazines or, in the case of a “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” book, you could pull the image out into 3D.
It turned static ads into video ads and in the latter case, at least in one instance, you could see the image at what appeared to be full scale. For example, looking down at the picture of the world’s smallest man, you could see him standing on the book. Many of the implementations though seemed to be along the lines of “look what we can do” and they weren’t that compelling as a result.
So they showcased both the good and the bad in any new visual technology: the good being images that captured your interest and possibly made you more likely to buy the product; the bad just a distraction that wasted time and money.
As you look at augmented reality, opportunities where they can showcase the buyer with the product, showcase how a product might be used, or allow a more attractive presentation, would all be good uses. Where it is simply implemented in a “see what I can do” framework on top of an ad that wasn’t designed with this in mind, there it will likely be a waste of money.
However, there are a number of pronounced issues to think about when you create a virtual X-ray experience. One is that what you are seeing may not actually be there; it is virtual and care will need to be taken to assure people don’t act like what they are seeing virtually is real. For instance, take a building and a plan overlay: If the builder changed from the plan and moved a power or gas line, someone working with the idea that what they are seeing is real could have a disaster on their hands, so precautions would still need to be taken, like turning off the gas, water and electricity to make sure a disaster doesn’t occur as a result of this change.
Another issue is employee misuse: Being able to see through clothing would have a high entertainment value, but would also likely be in violation of a number of anti-sexual harassment laws. Rather than waiting for someone to misuse the technology, it might be wise to communicate out that using virtual reality, like browsing the Web for pornography on the job, is a termination offense (assuming it would be) and companies should get ahead of this problem as soon as apps start showing up on phones that can do this. If you search on this topic, you’ll find there are a number of virtual reality apps and lens technologies that are on the market today. (While I think this one is likely a hoax, it does provide a sense for how troubling this could be.)
Like any new technology, it will take us a while to figure out how to get this one right; that is, the concept of blending the real with the imaginary. Nearly a decade ago, HP showcased where it thought virtual reality might go and it remains one of the more imaginative demonstrations. This is happening pretty fast and it may be wise, for a whole lot of reasons, to keep your eye on the employees and family members who are starting to use this technology, because, like most, there are those who will use this for good and those who won’t use good judgment. Enabling the former while mitigating the latter may well fall onto IT’s plate this round.