Altered realities on Thursday abounded at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) gadget fest, touching everything from sex and sports to sales and space exploration.
Virtual-reality (VR) headsets immersed people in fictional worlds, while augmented-reality (AR) eyewear overlaid digital data on the scenes around them.
“Virtual reality takes you to another place, while augmented reality brings another place to you,” said Ari Grobman of Lumus, an Israeli company that specializes in optics technology for augmented reality.
“I don’t see them as competing forces at all; they are very complementary,” he added.
Facebook Inc-owned Oculus VR LLC began taking pre-orders for its eagerly-anticipated Rift VR headsets at a price of US$599 when the CES show floor opened on Wednesday. Rift is scheduled to begin shipping in March.
Taiwan’s HTC Corp (宏達電) used CES to announce enhancements to its Vive VR headset it is bringing to market.
“For too long, the promise of virtual reality has been little more than a promise,” HTC CEO Cher Wang (王雪紅) said in a statement. “Today we stand on the precipice of a new era.”
While video game players have been natural early targets for virtual reality, the technology is being put to use for education, medicine, sports, pornography and more.
“Virtual reality is a big deal here,” Gartner Inc analyst Brian Blau said at CES. “I was trying to count the number of booths that at least had a VR headset, and there were too many.”
Young start-up STRIVR Labs Inc mentally trains US professional football quarterbacks by virtually putting them into plays using Rift headsets.
“It takes you as close to the real-life experience of a player that you can get,” former quarterback Trent Dilfer said while taking part in a virtual-reality panel at CES.
“I think coaches that don’t implement this are really missing the boat,” Dilfer added.
Virtual reality is also being used for fan experiences, such as providing the illusion of being at a stadium or trying to block hockey pucks fired at a net by professional players.
California-based pornography company Naughty America is using virtual reality to put viewers in the heart of the action in sex scenes, a demonstration showed.
“I think everyone has been looking for that in adult entertainment and it is here,” Naughty America vice president Lauren S. told reporters. “Seeing is believing.”
Meanwhile, US space agency NASA used Rift at CES to let people virtually fly around a towering rocket that it plans to launch in 2018.
The International Space Station is equipped with Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented-reality headgear.
“I think it is going to increase the speed at which we can do our science,” NASA’s Hugh “Trey” Cate said.
San Francisco-firm Skully was at CES with its first AR motorcycle helmet. A tiny projector displayed driving directions, or showed what was going on behind a rider by tapping into a camera built into the rear of the US$1,499 helmet.
“Motorcycle riders are fanatics, and they are really excited about this,” Skully manager of special projects Clint Masterson said.
Lumus AR technology has been used by US military jet pilots, while Silicon Valley-based Atheer Labs uses Lumus optics engines in a “smart glasses platform” aimed at businesses.
People wearing the glasses see information float in front of them, and can interact with it using gestures, head motions or voice commands, Atheer’s Ketan Joshi said.
“This is the evolution of computing,” Joshi said. “Information surrounds you and you can interact with it by literally reaching out and touching it or talking to it.”
Industries in which AR is being put to work include manufacturing, healthcare, insurance and oil-and-gas, Joshi said.
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