Google has big plans for the virtual reality (VR) and the augmented reality but the company believes that the world of all things VR is still waiting for its iPhone moment. Clay Bavor, the VP of VR and augmented reality at Google, said at the Google I/O 2017 that he was very pleased with the progress the company was making VR but the big breakthrough that would popularise the dorky headsets was still awaited.
“In the last six months after launching Daydream (Google’s VR platform) we are very pleased with the progress we have made,” said Bavor. “But we are long way from reaching the iPhone moment in the VR.”
Bavor’s comments came in response to a question about the perceived slow progress of the VR and related gadgets. A number of companies, including Facebook that now owns Oculus and HTC that has made Vive VR headset, are working on virtual reality. Microsoft too has something in the works under the HoloLens program, although it is more into the domain of augmented reality. While the technologies are exciting, so far the VR products have failed to catch the fancy of consumers.
Most of the VR headsets like Oculus and Vive are very expensive. The cheaper ones, which are part of Google Daydream platform, aren’t that useful and exciting.
But Bavor believes that people should not compare the progress VR platforms with the pace at which smartphone rose. He believes that for smartphones too the gains were incremental in the beginning and it was only after the iPhone hit the market in 2007 that the pace at which smartphones matured quickened. “If you use the right comparison point, VR is playing out at the right pace,” he said.
At this year’s I/O, Google has announced that it is now developing a new standalone VR platform. Earlier, the company came out with the Cardboard, which was just a very cheap headset made of cardboard and couple of lenses. It was to be used with a smartphone. Last year it announced the Daydream, which was better than the cardboard (call it more sophisticated cardboard) but it too requires a compatible smartphone.
This is set to change by the end of this year. Google has said that now it is working on a standalone VR headset that will be manufactured by HTC and Lenovo, to start with. This VR headset will work on its own and it will come with a technology called WorldSense that will help the users get a better feel of the virtual environment. It will also have high-end hardware inside it, similar to what is there in devices like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
Although Google has not talked about the specifics of the hardware, Bavor said it will have a powerful mobile processor, high-quality display unit and a number of sensors that will monitor the movement of the user. The cost too will be high compared to the existing Daydream headset.
“We worked closely with Qualcomm to create a standalone headset reference design, which partners can use as a blueprint to build from. HTC VIVE, a leader in the VR space, and Lenovo, a leader in mobile and computing, are both working on devices, with the first ones coming later this year,” said Bavor.
Google is also working to ensure that the performance aspect of its standalone VR headset is top notch. It says that it is working on something Seurat, which will allow developers to create p[hoto-realistic virtual worlds in real time. “It uses some clever tricks to help you achieve desktop-level graphics or better with a mobile GPU. Seurat enabled ILMxLAB, the branch of Lucasfilm focused on pioneering next generation immersive experiences, to bring the cinema-quality world of Rogue One to a mobile VR headset,” says Bavor.
For Google VR is apparently very important because the company believes it will help it solve several users problems. “With something VR we can help people relive memories – for example a wedding memory – by letting them enter a memory in virtual world,” said Bavor.
At the same time, it is also important because many companies including Facebook believes VR is the next big thing in the world of technology. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg – and very few people are as smart as Zuckerberg – is so convinced that VR is going to reshape the world that he spent nearly $3 billion to acquire Oculus earlier. For Google, a standalone VR headset will help it compete better with companies Facebook whenever VR gets big.
Augmented reality too gets a push
At the I/O 2017, Google is also talking about the Tango platform, which is company’s effort to create smartphones that have augmented reality inbuilt in them. Google has said that it has worked with Asus to create a new Tango phone, which will be launched in the coming months. As a feature update, Google is adding VPS (virtual positioning system) in Tango, enabling better indoor navigation.
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Bavor believes that the VPS is a very powerful technology and to can one day even help people with poor or no vision navigate the world around them. Already, Google is apparently using VPS for indoor navigation – for example in a store – using what a camera in a phone sees and using the data collected from planograms.
“With Tango, devices can provide indoor directions and place digital objects in the space around us. You can see what furniture looks like in your bedroom before you buy it, build interactive worlds in your living room, or summon dinosaurs into your kitchen to learn more about them,” said Bavor.