Story written by Sivan Iram
In a recent talk I gave at the Idea Center in Miami, a gentleman from the audience asked for my opinion on the battle of technologies, Virtual Reality vs. Augmented Reality, and which I think will prevail.
I believe that these two technologies are not rivals, but complementary, like Bicycles and Cars. Some activities (such as driving from SF to LA) should only be done with the one and some (such as riding down a mountain trail) only with the other, but some activities (such as getting to work when you live relatively close by) can be done with either. Let’s look at these use cases, and make a prediction on what would happen when they are combined.
Technology Use Cases
Yesterday, the internet at my house stopped working, and I had to hard reset my router. To do so, I had to fit something into the tiny “reset” hole in the back of the router. After a 5 minute search in the kitchen drawer, I had the option of using a paper clip or a toothpick. Not only that that was not a use case that the inventors of these items depicted in their minds, but I also think that there is no other reason to have these two items compete over a “Job To Be Done”.
A great post popped up on my LinkedIn feed a few weeks back. It shows a partial list of the use cases for VR and AR, on a Venn diagram.
This is a partial list since critical use cases such as productivity, training, and education (etc.) are missing, but the point remains the same. You can imagine a VR training experience where you learn to operate a machine, but the same can be true in AR, where the labels and instructions show on the real machine.
Same Device, Different Uses
My answer to the question posed during my talk, was that I believe that the two devices will converge in the future. I believe that the future AR devices would allow the user to “turn the transparency off”, and block their view of the world, turning the HMD/glasses into a VR device.
An article describing Magic Leap’s technology shows how this is possible. The Photonic Lightfield Chip (don’t call it a lens!) is made of layers of Diffractive Optical Elements (DOE).
Using different activation combinations of DOE’s creates the illusion on depth, so digital information can be displayed at different focal points.
But also, according to the article, activating the outer and inner DOE’s together can be used to cancel light and achieve true black, in the same manner noise cancelation headphones work. This would mean that with a press of a button, our AR glasses could turn into a VR glasses.
There would be obvious trade-offs when combining the two technologies. AR glasses require incredible form factor to be worn in public, which VR glasses don’t. On the flip side, VR HMD’s need to be generally more powerful (in terms of CPU/GPU), since they create the entire environment. I believe
that there will still be a market for AR glasses that don’t turn into a VR device (for dedicated enterprise use, for example), and VR HMD’s that won’t have AR capabilities (for high end gaming, for example). To use the cars-bicycles analogy, I believe that there will be “regular bicycles”, “regular cars” and a combination of the two (electrical bicycles in this example).
On Toothpicks And Paper Clips
It will be fascinating to see what new use cases emerge from these new technologies. Although the above analogy is an edge case, it’s highly likely that not only is “necessity the mother of invention”, but sometimes “invention” can be the “mother of necessity”.