Google Goes Beyond Cardboard With Revamped VR Focus - InformationWeek

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1/13/2016
06:16 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Google Goes Beyond Cardboard With Revamped VR Focus

Google is aiming to make virtual reality into a real business with its dedicated VR division now headed by Clay Bavor.

CIOs Detail Hiring Plans For First Half Of 2016
CIOs Detail Hiring Plans For First Half Of 2016
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Google has placed its virtual reality group under new leadership, appointing Clay Bavor, formerly a product management vice president for Google Apps who oversaw the company's Cardboard VR viewer initiative, to be vice president of virtual reality. Google's VR group launched in 2014 and includes Expeditions, Jump, and other investments.

This year has been frequently referred to as "the year of virtual reality," because the media and the tech industry insist on labelling years to highlight trends. 2015 was also the year of virtual reality, by some accounts. The year 2014 has a claim on that title too, because that was when Facebook spent $2 billion to acquire VR headset maker Oculus and when Google introduced Cardboard, its DIY VR headset. There were several years during the 1990s, when VRML was the next big thing, that could have qualified as the year of virtual reality.

Such labelling is largely driven by hope that the designated trend will turn into a meaningful revenue stream. Tech advisory firm Digi-Capital anticipates that money will flow, eventually. The firm expects VR revenue will reach $30 billion in 2020. This year, it sees early adopters investing in VR, but notes that the powerful computer hardware required to show VR content is beyond the reach of most consumers.

"Moore's Law and a flagging PC market searching for growth could bring [VR] within reach of mass consumers by 2017," Digi-Capital said in a blog post last month.

However, there's also the issue of VR-induced motion sickness, which remains an issue for some people.

(Image: Google)

(Image: Google)

Nonetheless, the major technology companies are investing in VR and its more promising sibling, augmented reality (AR). AR earns that distinction by being more widely applicable to real-world concerns and activities. The technology involves mapping computer graphics onto a person's view of the real world, as opposed to displaying a wholly computer-generated virtual world. AR's utility beyond games and entertainment helps explain why Google in 2014 invested in AR startup Magic Leap and Apple last year acquired AR software maker Metaio. AR has potential value to businesses. Digi-Capital sees AR revenue reaching $90 billion by 2020.

Google's commitment to the technology is clearly serious, despite the low-key nature of its Cardboard headset. On Wednesday, Google announced that its Cardboard SDKs for Android and Unity support spatial audio. Perhaps more telling are the dozens of VR-related job openings at Google.

[Read Microsoft, NASA Send HoloLens Into Space.]

Google wants others to share its interest in VR, as can be seen from Bavor's recent tweet about how Cardboard was used in an operation that saved a baby's life. VR, in other words, is not just for hardcore gamers.

VR initially will be consumed as entertainment, but it risks becoming like 3D in movies -- an overhyped technology that underwhelms while costing too much. There will be a few VR gaming hits, but how many games will be so much better with VR that consumers want to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars in extra hardware for the premium experience? Developers will have to do a lot of exploration to understand what works and what doesn't. That's what's happening this year.

VR and AR are inevitable, but it will take time before we figure out where the technology becomes essential.

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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio
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kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
1/26/2016 | 11:27:23 AM
price point

"but how many games will be so much better with VR that consumers want to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars in extra hardware for the premium experience?"

And this is going to be the problem. People are usually willing to spend a few hundred for a promising game or two, (think World of Warcraft, or the Sims franchise where people spent hundreds in expansion packs and monthly subscriptions for a single game) but the price point needs to come down for people to be willing to take a chance on a system that might just gather dust, or have it priced in stages so the equipment is a monthly rental like a subscription where the the cost is spread out over time. VR and AR have some real potential, but it need to get to the point where main stream audiences can afford it.

Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Author
1/14/2016 | 5:54:04 PM
Re: surgery
@Brian It's great when technology can be applied in that way, to make real improvements in people's lives. I know there's a lot of money to be made in entertainment applications, but I am far more impressed by these .
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
1/14/2016 | 5:41:37 PM
Re: surgery
@Ariella, thank you for recommending the book -- it has been added to my list of books that are a must read.

VR, smartphones and apps are starting to produce a large number of valuable use cases. For instance, there was a report about VR being utilized to treat veterans that experienced traumatic events during their duty and another that was utilizing VR to treat arachnophobia.
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Author
1/14/2016 | 3:35:07 PM
Re: surgery
@Brian Google cardboad only cost about $20, according to that article, though it did also need a smartphone with a downloaded app to work at imaging the baby's heart. If you're interested in applications of technology to healthcare, I highly recommend Dr. Eric Topol's book The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands 
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
1/14/2016 | 2:40:11 PM
Good analysis
Good analysis on the nature of virtual reality and where we're at.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
1/14/2016 | 6:12:37 AM
Re: surgery
Imagining technology advances and it is easy to overlook the benefits that it is providing. However, if we compare the latest technology with the previous generation then, the benefits become clear. For instance, X-Ray machines used to take an hour to take and process an image, only to find out in the end that the X-Ray image is not focused and the entire process had to be repeated currently, computational capabilities in an X-Ray machine has made it possible to complete the entire process in 5 minutes or less.

Devices that are part of the healthcare spectrum might not be under the same price point constraints that a consumer device is under. For the consumer segment, devices such as, Samsung's Gear VR at $99 seems to be a price that can commercialize VR for the masses.
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Author
1/13/2016 | 8:26:00 PM
surgery
Bavor's tweet links to this story: http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/07/health/google-cardboard-baby-saved/index.html The baby was born with only one lung and part of her heart missing.  She lived longer than doctors first thought she would but needed surgery. The first plan was to make a 3D model of her heart, as had been done before. But the 3D printer broke. That forced the surgeons to come up with another approach:

"Using an app called Sketchfab, Muniz downloaded images of Teegan's heart onto his iPhone and showed them to Burke.

They were similar, yet different from 3-D images they'd been using on computer screens. With the goggles, it was possible to move around and see the heart from every angle -- to almost be inside the heart checking out its structure.

Burke looked through the Google Cardboard, and visualized what he could do to fix Teegan's heart."

 

 

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