The Future of Virtual Reality — Key Takeaways from the Oculus Connect Conference (OC6)

The Future of Virtual Reality — Key Takeaways from the Oculus Connect Conference (OC6)

Last month, Oculus and Nestle Purina showcased our work at the Oculus Connect 6 Conference (aka: OC6) which we attended in San Jose CA. The conference looks at the future of virtual reality, and we want to share what we learned.

OC6 opened with a Keynote by Facebook Founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. In this opening, Mark shared why he believes Virtual Reality is the universal computing platform everyone will use in the future. Here are some important takeaways we noted from our time at OC6.

Empathy Training Using VR

Through the research and understanding of what makes a great connected human experience, Oculus is finding ways to apply the three dimensions on closeness in human relationships (Frequency of interaction, Diversity of Interactions, and Impact of the Experience) to Virtual Reality (VR). This leading research will enhance and improve not just social VR experiences but also business interactions. The enterprise world requires trust as a critical component of any business relationship.

Nothing showed this better than the prototype Oculus Labs displayed where they were able to reconstruct and demonstrate facial expressions in real-time. Of course, it will be a while before the hardware that makes this possible is available in a consumer-friendly form factor and price point, but it’s coming.

Empathy training is a natural use case for VR, especially in the hospitality industry. Hilton used VR to train their employees and help them understand what the guests are feeling under certain conditions. In their experience, the employee actually became the guest and was able to gain a lasting empathetic state for their guests.

Facebook, along with other major companies, is making a huge bet on the future of AR/VR

There’s no doubt that the AR/VR space is continuing to grow. It was apparent at OC6 that major technology companies like Facebook are making a large investment in the development and expansion of that industry, for both consumer and enterprise users. The result will be the sustained growth in adoption, accelerated innovation, and the creation of new types of solutions, hardware, and paradigms to support AR and VR.

AR/VR is about the world around you

A point made repeatedly at OC6 was that the long-term vision of AR is, in fact, to make us more present and aware of the non-digital world around us. Imagine a day where an AR system is accessible through a standard pair of glasses, or even a pair of contacts. At that point, we will work less with devices, and more with subtle, non-intrusive AR systems that allow us to keep more of our attention on our real surroundings. By doing so, AR can actually bring people closer together.

We’re still in the good old days

No one at OC6 was shy about the fact that we’re still in the early days of AR and VR. That means for consumers, developers, and anyone else in this space we are in an exciting time to be working on this technology. Foundational solutions and patterns are still being developed, and the space for innovation will continue to allow for new game changes to enter the arena of AR/VR.

Quest is a game changer

With that said, the Oculus Quest really is a game changer in terms of the VR experience offered, as well as ease of development on that platform. The Oculus is the best in class hardware solutionfor enterprise customers looking to use VR in their daily operations. Oculus announced that the Quest will also soon have hand tracking and therefore, controllers will become optional or only required for certain applications.

Augmented reality won’t just be about headsets

Eventually, augmented reality will be about far more than just VR headsets. With Facebook’s acquisition of CTRL-Labs, it is clear that while the Oculus Quest is the cutting edge for AR/VR today, future iterations of AR will be about how we fully augment our digital experience with the physical. While the idea of truly connecting our brains to a digital system is still far in the future, we’re fast approaching the time when these types of technologies are major parts of the AR/VR roadmap.

Valence Takes Part in Seattle Interactive Conference 2018

Valence Takes Part in Seattle Interactive Conference

#SIC2018 Exhibitor’s Hall

Visionary thinkers seeking disruptive technologies and innovative business models were brought together at the Seattle Interactive Conference(SIC) hosted in downtown Seattle on October 17th and 18th. During the course of two days, thousands of entrepreneurs, online business professionals, executives, and students attended SIC to share inspiration and learn about what is happening at the intersection of technology, creativity, and commerce. Valence was excited to participate in this annual event, and we had many great conversations with people across sectors wanting to learn more about the emerging technologies — and that’s what we do at Valence!

In Valence’s booth, we shared our visions and exhibited how we continuously innovate and help enterprise drive digital transformation through applying modern technologies including AR/VR, artificial intelligence, IoT, voice and chat, blockchain and more.

Valence was especially proud to showcase the fully immersive Space Needle Virtual Reality Tour that many SIC attendees raved about! Valence built this VR tour as part of Seattle’s Space Needle renovation marketing campaign rolled out in spring this year, which allowed local and national journalists to virtually see and feel what visitors would experience when the huge makeover to the Space Needle completed later in summer.

Putting on a VR headset (Samsung Odyessy: Windows Mixed Reality) and stepping onto a custom built haptic stage, within a minute the user would experience the elevator ride up to Space Needle’s observation deck and be looking down at the 500 feet between them and the ground, through a rotating glass floor.

During this virtual tour, those who have a fear of heights were often hesitant to put their foot forward onto the “glass floor” initially, as it felt too real to them, but in the end, they were very amazed by the experience of walking on a rotating glass floor and sitting back on a glass bench floating over the Seattle skyline.

We also brought in a pair of Magic Leap mixed reality glasses to demonstrate how users can interact with not only the 3D digital objects created in a virtual environment mapped to the current room they are in, but also the room and the physical objects inside it. For example, they can add a virtual animal on the coffee table that’s physically in the room; they can walk around and see the animal at different angles. The exhibition area immediately becomes the user’s playground once they put these glasses on, and people are excited about where the mixed reality technology will take them beyond gaming.

Among the visionaries at the conference was Valence’s very own Hannah Mintek, Head of Design, who was on a panel of XR (Mixed Reality) insiders, along with Vinay Narayan from HTC Vive, Andrew Mitrak from HaptX, and Theresa Moore from Pixability to share their insight about how we can make sure the future of XR tech is based on reality.

We had an epic time learning and networking at Seattle Interactive Conference and hope to see you next year!

Augmented World Expo 2018— a recap through the eyes of Valence

Augmented World Expo 2018— a recap through the eyes of Valence

Matthew Carlisle — Director of Technology

Several of us engineers and developers from Valence spent the last few days of May at the 9th Annual Augmented World Expo (AWE) in Santa Clara, California. Since not everyone could attend, I thought I’d share some insights and impressions, since it was a pretty amazing (um, should I say awe-inspiring?) experience!

Valence was one of the few service providers there, possibly because AR hasn’t reached mass adoption yet. There’s been a ton of interest (remember Pokémon Go?) and some cool demo projects, but it hasn’t fully caught fire. At least not for the mass consumer market. Yet. (More on that below… keep reading!)

Here’s what I DID notice at the Augmented World Expo, though. It looks like wearable AR glasses are making a come-back. For a while, there was mainly just Microsoft’s HoloLens. Of course, that was after the Google Glass experiment, which turned out not to be such a great success. Perhaps it was simply before its time, or perhaps too consumer focused given the $1,500 price tag, or perhaps not focused enough on privacy. Whatever the reason, things went south for a time.

But it definitely looks like the technology is on the rise again, this time more aligned with enterprise and industrial uses. At AWE, there must have been over 30 manufacturers of various grades of mixed reality glasses, screens, etc. Companies like ODG are innovating and creating devices kind of like chunky sunglasses with a phenomenal amount of power and a visual experience that’s top of the line.

There’s a huge variety, too, with multiple kinds of products entering the marketplace. You have full-immersion 3D AR, like HoloLens and the ODG offerings (some of ODG’s products are made for gaming and offer theater-quality visuals).

Then there are industrial or enterprise options for the factory and warehouse. One company that caught our eye was RealWear, which manufactures tough, helmet-mounted AR goggles with voice activation for workers and technicians. These are not 3D or immersive, but they are a way to add data, value, and functionality to the experience — think tutorials on how to make a repair on-site, like while you’re looking at a broken carburetor or wind turbine.

They’re all great for a hands-free, heads-up work experience, say in hazardous environments. Or for adding to 3D development projects, like in real estate or city planning. There’s a lot of interest in the health care field and other commercial uses, as well.

Costs are coming down, but the devices are still expensive. That’s why there is a lot of experimentation all around, and we have yet to see mass adoption or any wide-scale use of this technology, especially in consumer markets. That’s actually a normal pattern for technology adoption, especially when it comes to hardware.

For now, the main energy in AR for consumers seems to be coming from the mobile handset universe. It has started to become widely adopted at this point, with movie premiers using AR to engage fans and grow audiences, IKEA and Home Depot joining the fray to help consumers visualize their purchases, and cosmetics retailer Sephora enabling consumers to try virtual makeup without leaving the house.

Surprisingly, there were very few mobile AR vendors or developers at AWE. I’m not sure why that it is. Maybe because mobile AR has moved from being cool to just being something everyone can do — especially with new tools like Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore. Or perhaps it’s not considered “real” AR, but simply a mobile experience.

At the Augmented World Expo, Tony Parisi, Head of AR/VR ads for Unity and an AWE speaker had a really interesting take on this duality, contrasting the high-end AR headset market for industrial use and the consumer market’s more entertainment-oriented approach to the technology.

At Valence, we add augmented reality or virtual reality experiences for our industrial and enterprise clients, so they can access the best of both worlds at once: the real world in front of them plus the virtual world of critical information, data, and context.

We were awestruck by our time at AWE, and we’re back home imagining the possibilities. Interested in hearing more? Contact us, and we’ll start you off with a demo, to show how remarkable this technology can be!

Announcing the HoloLens Innovation Accelerator

Announcing the HoloLens Innovation Accelerator

Today at Augmented World Expo 2018, we are incredibly excited to announce our HoloLens Innovation Accelerator! This marks an important day for us at Valence for two reasons: first, it is the first of many Innovation Accelerators we will release this year, and second because it marks an important milestone for Valence and our approach to augmented reality.

Everyone at Valence works with a lot of enterprise customers, and time and again the number one challenge they deal with is simply finding a way to get started with new and emerging technologies. In many ways, the very fact that these new technologies — like artificial intelligence, voice and chat, robotics, blockchain and more — are so powerful and flexible is exactly why it can be so difficult to pick one and get moving.

Our Innovation Accelerators represent an important step in solving this problem. They provide a specific — and often vertical, industry-oriented — framework that helps “jumpstart” a real-life solution. An Innovation Accelerator contains sample code and a reference architecture that our customers can build from, working together with Valence.

Our first Innovation Accelerator is focused on the Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality platform. HoloLens is a very powerful mixed reality headset, and it provides a lot of flexibility for solution developers (like Valence!) to make end-to-end solutions. One of the many things that we believe mixed and augmented reality is good for is getting contextual information on physical objects simply by looking at them.

Our HoloLens Innovation Accelerator provides a framework for doing exactly that. It is built using the Mixed Reality Toolkit for Unity, combined with the Microsoft Azure IoT Suite, Azure Cognitive Services and ASP.NET SignalR. We bring these components together so a user, simply by directing the field-of-view toward a piece of industrial equipment (or any object, for that matter), can view key IoT data in a digital dashboard projected above the actual object.

For us this is a great way to show the value of a “front-end” data visualization experience integrated with industrial “back-end” IoT data stored in enterprise systems.

We are super excited to be demo-ing this while at AWE 2018 — Contact Us for more details and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @valencelevel

How about a Dose of Virtual Reality to Ease the Pain?

How about a Dose of Virtual Reality to Ease the Pain?

Virtual Reality and Pain Management

What role do technologies like virtual reality play in patient care for issues such as pain management?

I hate going to the dentist. That insidious high-pitched squeal sends shivers up my spine. The cold water they spray in your mouth makes my teeth ache. For me, it’s a guaranteed hour of incredible discomfort, stress, and pain — that kind of high-pitched pain that only happens when someone inserts sharp objects under the tender tissue at your gum line.

My dentist lets me watch Netflix, to distract me from the experience. But I can still see the razor-sharp instruments approaching out of the corner of my eye. Plus I hear everything going on around me. Including that insidious high-pitched squeal.

The good news is that there is a better way! Enter virtual reality for pain management. It turns out it can help with fear and anxiety, too.

Researchers have actually been studying this and conducting legitimate case-control studies that are getting published in medical journals. We’re seeing all sorts of collaborations between health plans or hospitals plus VR headset makers plus insurance companies plus digital tech firms and even pharmaceutical giants.

One intriguing experiment was done at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. It’s a major teaching hospital in a large urban area, so they get all sorts of patients coming through the door, from people having heart attacks to others limping in with broken bones. The idea was to compare how much pain in the hospital felt when they used immersive 3D VR goggles and headphones vs. watching 2D nature videos, which is one technique doctors use now to help calm and soothe patients and distract them from pain.

For anyone who has tried (and failed) to get kids away from a video game to come to dinner, it’s probably not a huge surprise that the patients in the VR group became fully immersed in the virtual world.

But the statistical results were really impressive: The VR folks experienced a roughly 25% drop in pain levels, plus twice the pain relief compared to the regular video watchers. Which is a big deal when you think about our current national crisis with opioid overuse and addiction.

Imagine if doctors could prescribe fantasy vs. fentanyl (meaning harmless VR sessions vs. dangerous, addictive drugs). The head researcher on this study, Brennan Spiegel, believes that this isn’t so far-fetched. He can picture a day when futuristic pharmacies might actually prescribe specialized VR to patients.

Why might this work? Spiegel says this: “The simplest theory is that it’s just distraction. It’s like shining a bright light right into the brain and almost overwhelming it with signals so it runs interference with the brain. Because the brain is so immersed in the experience, it’s unable to simultaneously process the pain signals coming from the body.”

The mechanism might be slightly different in helping people deal with anxiety vs. pain, but it seems to work, nonetheless. One study has focused on using VR to help veterans recover from PTSD by continually confronting the same event that traumatized them over and over again, this time from a safe vantage point in a virtual environment. With VR headsets, which they can borrow to do homework, patients can always just walk away if things get too intense. This allows PTSD survivors to focus on working through their trauma and anxiety in manageable baby steps.

The same applies to people with different kinds of fears and phobias. Right now therapists use exposure therapy to help people master phobias. Sufferers are exposed to the source of their fear, say spiders, in real life, over and over again. Eventually, over time, they get desensitized and lose their fear. With VR, therapists can expose people to a virtual fear-inducing environment, slowly increasing the spiders or darkness or height or whatever as the patient calms down (which is measured by tracking brain waves).

Imagine if you used these technologies but could then hook people up to a wearable device like an Apple watch or an iPhone to detect the brain waves, and enable patients to get real-time home-based biofeedback? It’s an intriguing idea and a real possibility given how accessible and affordable today’s digital tools have become.

This is the kind of innovation that is transforming patient care, improving outcomes, and reducing costs, while also generating troves of valuable data. That’s what our team at Valence is about, and it’s what we offer our healthcare clients, as well.

At Valence, we can add augmented reality or virtual reality experiences for our clients and let them collect and view real-time patient data at the same time. It’s exciting to imagine the possibilities. Interested in hearing more? Contact us, and we’ll start you off with a demo, to show how remarkable this technology can be!

AR in Healthcare? It’s Already Here

Augmented Reality in Healthcare? It’s Already Here

Augmented Reality is increasingly showing up in healthcare settings.

It has not even been 125 years since the X-ray was discovered in a German physics lab. How is it possible that our visualization technology has leapt so far ahead that surgeons are practicing procedures using augmented reality (AR) and students are studying human anatomy with AR headsets at medical school?

The pace of discovery is so accelerated these days that it’s hard to keep up with the digital transformation of the healthcare industry. That’s in part because of widely available open source platforms that give everyone easy access to high-tech tools. Not every equipment lab, hospital, or healthcare company needs to program its own visualization algorithms or Natural Language Processing systems anymore. They can make use of tools that Google, Microsoft, and Amazon provide in the cloud.

There’s a ton of money going into these developments and enormous improvements in patient health outcomes and satisfaction at stake. So, perhaps it’s not surprising that Statista, a statistics portal that indexes 22,500 data sources, predicts AR and VR applications in healthcare will reach $5.1 billion by 2025.

Remember dissecting fetal pigs in anatomy class? Or the macabre stories told by friends in medical school about getting their first cadaver? Those may become as obsolete as bleeding patients with leeches to correct imbalances in bodily humors.

Right now, students at Case Western Reserve University are studying anatomy via an AR app that can be used with Microsoft’s Hololens. “HoloAnatomy” emerged out of the world’s first third-party medical app created for Hololens and was a collaborative effort between the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University.

The Cleveland Clinic is no stranger to firsts: It has ranked as the #1 healthcare center for heart health for 22 years in a row. Now with this foray into innovative technology development (and the tech definitely elicits gasps even from seasoned medical school professors) the clinic has established its reputation as a pioneer in the use and development of augmented reality in medicine.

AR is also making its way into the operating room. In Oslo, Norway, surgeons have teamed up with developers to stitch 2-D medical images into 3-D AR models to help plan and practice surgeries. Imagine having the chance to see an artery before you nick it. Or to visualize the full extent of a tumor, so you don’t need to excise unnecessary tissue. According to Bjørn Edwin, surgeon at Oslo University Hospital, leaving more of healthy liver tissue intact during liver cancer surgery helps patients outcomes by increasing their ability to withstand subsequent operations. Even better: it helps them heal faster.

Technology innovation in healthcare is not just bells and whistles. It’s transforming patient care and patient outcomes as well as teaching students better and faster. That’s what our team at Valence offers for our healthcare clients, as well.

At Valence, we have the capability and the expertise to add real-time data to augmented reality views of real patients in real time. Imagine the possibilities for your facility. Interested in hearing more? Contact us, and we’ll start you off with a demo, to show how remarkable this technology can be!

AR & VR: What can we look forward to?

Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality: What can we look forward to?

What does the future of augmented reality and virtual reality look like?

When we mention augmented reality and virtual reality (AR and VR) most people think of games and gaming. In actuality AR and VR are different but related technologies that both reflect our growing capability to merge the physical world with a virtual world. Whether its a behind-the-scenes world of data and information or an immersive, manufactured world of simulated experiences, environments, and characters, augmented reality and virtual reality are here.

The global Pokémon Go craze two summers ago introduced people to augmented reality — the layering of a virtual world onto the physical world. We watched people — eyes glued to their smartphones — as they jumped out of cars, accidentally ran into washrooms and fountains, and assumed impossible poses trying to trap rare virtual Pokémon characters that had “spawned” close to real spaces in the physical world.

The game world is fun and it appeals to adults and kids, alike. Plus gaming is projected to lead 2025 AR/VR revenues worldwide, at a healthy $11.6 billion, according to Statista, a statistics portal that indexes 22,500 data sources. But AR and VR also have enormous potential in industrial, healthcare, and other enterprise applications, as well.

Picture healthcare. At the moment, medical students study from text books using 2-D illustrations, and then they move on to cadavers for their first 3-D experiences. But what if they could practice using augmented reality simulations, where they could examine the circulatory system layered onto the musculature layered onto the skeletal system? What if they could practice inserting an IV hundreds of times before confronting a real person? And what if that extra simulated practice could prevent them from missing a vein?

These real-life uses are coming soon. There are already pilot projects underway inside innovative partnerships among medical schools, platform developers, and the manufacturers of proprietary smart glasses, which detect the real world and display data, images, and content onto the user’s field of view. In fact, Statista predicts AR and VR applications in healthcare to reach $5.1 billion by 2025.

Industry is another area that will reap huge real-world advantages using AR and VR technology.

Picture a factory. Workers wearing smart glasses will be able to navigate a machine floor, avoiding danger zones by tracking a factory map overlay enhancing the real world. Or inspectors can view an actual piece of heavy industrial equipment through smart glasses and see its critical data superimposed in real time — when was the last time this machine was serviced, how efficiently is it running, what has been the average lifespan of similar equipment over history, how likely is it to break down in the next day, week, or month? This technology also incorporates IoT innovations, where devices are outfitted with sensors that detect and report on their internal state as well as the state of the environment.

All of this technology — taken alone or together in integrative ecosystems — can inspire massive transformation in all sectors of the economy, from manufacturing to construction, transportation, energy, and healthcare.

It sounds cliched to say it, but the truth is that at this point, the technology is there. The only limit is your imagination. We can build it. Come see for yourself.

At Valence we are working with our clients to develop groundbreaking AR and VR systems for real-world applications. We work with them on technology that opens markets, creates revenue streams, and saves money, all while enhancing customer satisfaction.   Contact us, and we’ll start you off with a demo, to show you how remarkable this technology can be!