New Realities…In a Galaxy Not So Far Away!
By Pat Maher
Quantum computing, cognitive services, mixed reality, computational cryptography… a laundry list for the next sci-fi blockbuster? Actually, these are working topics that Paul Edlund, Chief Technologist for the Microsoft Technology Center, and his colleagues are unraveling daily. “It’s hard to explain quantum computing to a high school kid, but my job is to take complex topics and make them easier to understand.” I expect it’s hard to explain quantum computing to most adults as well, but thankfully on this evening, Paul, Naresh Koka, and Matt Mead limited their discussion to the exciting evolution in virtual, augmented and mixed reality.
Naresh is SPR Consulting’s VP for Strategic Alliances. Matt Mead is SPR’s Chief Technology Officer, who on this evening was sporting welding glasses which he quipped were his poor man’s VR headset. This was a 90-minute mashup of visionary discussion, geeky humor, and immersive gaming moderated by Adam Hecktman, Microsoft Chicago’s Director of Technology and Civic Innovation.
Realities Beyond Fun and Games
Recent Goldman Sachs research estimates the market for VR hardware at $80B over the next decade. To put that in some context, that’s about the current market for PCs. Naresh noted a few of the many industries that are quickly being transformed through this technological evolution and driving this demand. Architecture and design, real estate, and healthcare are prominent among them. The opportunity for colleagues in these fields to collaborate in real-time will enable richer, better-informed decision-making.
“First responders will be able to gain insights from medical experts using mixed reality in order to make critical, life-saving decisions in the field.” – Naresh Koka, SPR Consulting VP for Strategic Alliances
Mixed reality fuses the real world with synthetic data that can interact and co-exist. This may be in the form of digital heads-up displays, real-time data or dynamic holographs. Here’s a quick primer on the evolving lexicon of these developing technologies:
Virtual reality (VR), which can be referred to as immersive multimedia or computer-simulated reality, replicates an environment that simulates a physical presence in places in the real world or an imagined world, allowing the user to interact in that world.
Augmented reality (AR) is a live, direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.
Mixed reality (MR)—sometimes referred to as hybrid reality—is the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time.
A Holograph is Worth a Thousand Worlds…Words
Matt Mead sees great promise for educators in each of these developing technologies. “Why do teachers take classes on field trips? To provide students with richer, hands-on learning experiences that they couldn’t access in the classroom. These technologies enable teachers to deliver these rich experiences without the travel. Or we can have those experiences on our own, in whatever environment we choose. That’s exciting.”
ITKAN members were itching to experience that excitement and our panel was happy to oblige them. Paul asked who’d like to try on the Vive headset and become immersed in a VR world. A flurry of hands shot upwards. Gerise Kendrick, one of our newest members, headed to the front of the room. Once her gear was comfortably fitted on her head and Paul provided a brief primer on the hand controller/joystick, she was transported on her maiden VR journey to a “distant galaxy” complete with its universally familiar theme music…da, da, da da da da da! You get the picture.
Once Gerise got the hang of the Vive control and acclimated to her new, virtual environment, she was able to drop the bay on the Millennium Falcon, make some needed repairs on the vintage ship, and prepare to fight off the enemy with her virtual lightsaber. Returning to her seat with a wide grin, she summed the experience up succinctly…that was awesome!
To MR…and Beyond!
Our panel of experts circulated around the room with the Microsoft Hololens – currently only available in the development version – providing everyone with the opportunity to experience this leading edge technology. Paul had to direct traffic as two members headed simultaneously toward an anatomical holograph of a man visible in the Hololens’s heads-up display.
He encouraged us to move toward the image to experience the full effect of MR as layers of anatomy virtually peeled away, revealing the human body’s intricacy. The experience was pretty mesmerizing. Ken Skord, Abilitylinks Program Director, was uncharacteristically excited as he shared his experience with the group. “I’m seeing the venous system now. It’s incredibly vivid.” While we might struggle to understand quantum computing, recognizing the promise of these rapidly evolving realities became more vivid for all of us after this evening.