Experts and consumers were electrified when Apple announced its first mixed reality glasses last summer. Apple's entry into the segment is seen as a clear signal of the technology's suitability for the masses. The Vision Pro, which is due to be delivered in the USA from February 2024, could therefore be a game changer for mixed reality. Luisa-Marie Schmolke, Innovation Manager at the ERGO Innovation Lab, took a closer look at the topic.
It is 1968 and computer graphics pioneer Ivan Sutherland has invented a pair of glasses at the University of Utah that can be used to project computer-generated virtual objects into physical reality. The three-dimensional, geometric shapes appear in the user's field of vision and move in synchronisation with their head movements. It is the first augmented reality (AR) or head-mounted display and has a refresh rate of 30 hertz. However, due to its weight, nobody was able to put the device on yet. It was still so heavy that it had to be attached to the ceiling above the wearer and was therefore called the "Sword of Damocles".
A lot has happened since then. The hardware of today's augmented reality or virtual reality (VR) glasses has become much lighter and the software significantly more powerful. In current VR glasses, the resolution is now so high that not a single pixel can be recognised. Latency, weight and energy consumption have also decreased significantly over the years. We are therefore on the threshold of an age in which reality can be fully merged with computer-generated objects - perfect immersion. The transition between the digital and analogue world will be seamless.
To make this experience even more realistic, there are already many projects and products to make the virtual world truly tangible, for example through haptic feedback, so-called "force feedback" or "tactile feedback". Haptic peripherals are intended to provide users with perfect multi-sensory immersion. This can be through motors or vibration mechanisms in controllers, gloves or touchscreens. There are so-called "haptic suits", i.e. full-body suits or waistcoats, with haptic feedback. There are also haptic floors or chairs that provide direct feedback on surfaces. Researchers from Malmö and Oslo want to integrate odours into the virtual world.
All these innovations and developments will bring us closer to what we are promised with the Metaverse. In which we can not only see and hear the three-dimensional internet via glasses (or spatial computing), but really feel it. As a full body experience.
It will take a few more developments before we get to that point. However, more and more mixed reality applications are already finding their way into our everyday lives and helping us as users to accomplish various tasks.
In the automotive sector, for example, head-up displays with augmented reality are already being installed in series production. They superimpose supporting information onto the driver's field of vision while they can keep their eyes on the road. In medicine, VR and AR make it possible to practise and simulate operations, while in industry, AR technologies support employees during assembly, maintenance or troubleshooting by superimposing information onto physical objects.
In addition, another area is virtually predestined for these technologies: Training and further education. At ERGO, for example, we have been training up to 500 independent sales partners every year since 2023 using VR training. Here, users learn how to conduct successful sales talks. Four different personality types are available to them as avatars, as well as a virtual coach who supports them with tips and assistance.
With "Switch off & recharge your batteries with VR", ERGO employees have also been able to take a virtual break of 20 minutes each at five locations since last year. And we are currently piloting a VR advice app in which customers can receive advice on travel health insurance via VR glasses. With the "ERGO VR Experience", we have succeeded for the first time in making insurance products an immersive experience and thus offering a great addition to traditional advice.
Overall, we believe that the potential of these technologies is very high. This is also because the use of AR and VR head sets has increased in recent years. With Apple's Vision Pro, we are now also on the cusp of the mass market. Some are even predicting that user behaviour, which has shifted from desktop to mobile in recent years, will move towards glasses as the 1st device in the coming years.
It is still difficult to say when mixed glasses will become a widespread everyday tool. It depends on many factors such as availability, pricing, content offerings, etc. But I am certain that we will see a rapid development curve in the coming years. And then we at ERGO will be prepared for it. Because we are frontrunners when it comes to utilising new technologies.
Text: Luisa-Marie Schmolke
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