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Why the reality of a virtual world is closer than we think

There seems to be something new happening everyday in the world of virtual / augmented / mixed reality. Here are some recent developments bringing the artificial world closer to reality.

Magic Leap

Remember watching that scene in Star Wars when Princess Leia appeared in the hologram and thinking how cool is that?!

That world got a little bit closer to becoming a reality (a virtual reality so to speak) this week with the release of a video from mixed reality (MR) technology developer, Magic Leap.

Magic Leap is the newest kid on the artificial reality block. Despite raising around $1.4 billion from the likes of Google, Alibaba and Warner Brothers (among others), very little is known about this secretive startup. Where Magic Leap claims to be different from other augmented reality technologies is in the clarity of the images it can project.

A blurb accompanying the promotion claims the video was shot earlier this month, using only the Magic Leap technology and without the use of any special effects or compositing.

In an expose for Wired, Kevin Kelly describes the eight-inch robot drone he could see in front of him using a Magic Leap headset:

“All the while it hums and slowly rotates above a desk. It looks as real as the lamps and computer monitors around it,” Kelly says.

“Intellectually, I know this drone is an elaborate simulation, but as far as my eyes are concerned it’s really there, in that ordinary office. It is a virtual object, but there is no evidence of pixels or digital artifacts in its three-dimensional fullness,” he continues.

All this visual stimulus is created with a clear plate the company calls a photonic lightfield chip.

It goes a step beyond virtual reality (VR) because the semi-transparent goggles allow the user to see both virtual and real objects within the same environment. This is something traditional immersive virtual reality finds harder to achieve, making mixed reality the more powerful of the two, says Kelly.

What does it mean for marketers? Quite a lot.  As Charlie Custer points out in Tech in Asia: “The more you use a device, the more it can learn about you.”

Custer highlights a number of ways that data can be collected and used – one example is through eye-tracking.

“An AR headset can (and indeed must) know where you’re looking to render focus properly. But that eye gaze data can be used for all kinds of other things, like ad tracking and even ecommerce. Magic Leap’s patent filings suggest a gaze-based microtransaction system where users could be charged for each page of a book they look at (for example),” Custer writes.


Another player in the mixed reality scene is Microsoft’s HoloLens. This enables users to interact with holograms using an “untethered” holographic computer in the form of a headset.

HTC Vive

Last year, virtual reality was tipped as a growing trend coming into 2016. That’s evidenced by the growing number of brands experimenting with this medium, many of them using YouTube’s 360 channel as a starting point.

For the more adventurous brands, many of them in the auto sector, virtual reality gives them the opportunity to give consumers immersive experiences (such as a test drive) without leaving the show room.

Two of the big players are Facebook’s Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive.

One of Vive’s latest partnerships is with IKEA. Earlier this month, the furniture retailer announced its global pilot of virtual reality app, the IKEA VR Experience.

It features a virtual IKEA kitchen in real world size. Using the HTC Vive headset consumers can use the app to explore one of three kitchen settings. Users can change the color of cabinets and drawers and can view the kitchen from different perspectives by either shrinking or stretching themselves into the size of a 3.3 foot-tall child or a 6.4 foot-tall adult.

“Virtual reality is developing quickly and in five to 10 years it will be an integrated part of people’s lives,” says Jesper Brodin, managing director at IKEA of Sweden, and range & supply manager, IKEA Group.

Through the app, IKEA is inviting consumers to give feedback on how to improve the use of virtual reality in the consumer purchase journey.

Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell, the Hollywood adaption of the Japanese anime film of the same name, was in the news this week, coming under fire for casting Scarlett Johansen in the lead role of Major.

But in virtual news, it is making waves for completely different reasons.

It is getting a big marketing boost from Japanese agency Sign and its Ghost in the Shell: The Movie Virtual Reality Diver.

Ghost in the Shell is a science fiction story where cyberized humans and androids (robots with their own ghost) coexist.

Sign has launched a VR teaser, which includes a 360-degree YouTube video. (Watch it on Google Chrome for a better effect to move the screen around or a Google Cardboard set if you have one)

It’s clever marketing – using new advances in technology to promote a film set in the future where “human bodies and minds are digitally and biologically enhanced, and communications take place on a large-scale network.”

Sign’s creative director, Nobumichi Asai, says: “What used to be seen as science fiction is now possible thanks to current technological advances. We can say our world is headed towards an “age of cyberpunk.”

In this future world Asai questions, what is human existence, what is a soul and how will technology change humanity? All relevant questions as new technologies in this sphere start making headway.

by Sophie Loras