What to Look Forward to This Year in Virtual and Augmented Reality Technology

Standalone virtual reality (VR) headsets, 360° cameras and consumer-oriented augmented reality (AR) smart glasses are just a sample of what made a big splash at CES 2018. Here’s a look at where the industry is heading this year.

CES 2018, hosted by the Consumer Technology Association and showcasing major innovations in VR and AR, wrapped up its biggest year yet last January. More than 3,900 exhibitors filled the 2.75 million square feet of space in Las Vegas and an incredible total of 245 companies made AR/VR releases.

A team from Greenlight Insights, a San Francisco company specializing in AR/VR market intelligence, attended CES 2018 and reviewed its major releases. They’ve noted a real shift in the industry as product portfolios are now really targeting a variety of markets.

Whereas VR used to focus mainly on entertainment (primarily gaming), it’s moving towards commercial uses. Meanwhile, manufacturers of AR smart glasses are doing exactly the opposite: after having enjoyed success with business markets, they are now targeting the consumer end with less expensive and more attractive products.

Here are some of the year’s top announcements.

Standalone VR headsets and higher resolution

In a joint release, Lenovo and Google came out with a standalone head-mounted display that takes the VR experience a step further. The Mirage Solo manufactured by Lenovo and operates on Google’s Daydream VR platform.

Lenovo’s Mirage Solo

The device is equipped with an internal tracking system and a new and fully integrated motion tracking technology called Google WorldSense. It tracks the headset’s movements in the real world and then calculates the corresponding movements for the virtual world.

Display quality itself is no different than that of a PC-connected headset, but the walk-around freedom is sure to create a buzz.

HTC also released the professional-grade Vive Pro headset along with the Vive Wireless adaptor at CES.

HTC released the professional-grade Vive Pro headset at CES.

The Vive Pro includes dual OLED displays with a higher resolution (2880 x 1600 pixels) for more clarity—resulting in a more immersive experience. While ideal for gaming, the higher degree of immersion will prove useful in medical training and automotive applications.

As for the wireless adaptor, it integrates with both the Vive and Vive Pro, making it possible to go cordless without having to buy a new device.

Finally, Greenlight Insights suggested following the release of two new headsets by the very active startup Pico Interactive. The Neo standalone headset and Eagle Mobile Home Theater were created with the help of major industry partners: Kopin, Qualcomm and HTC.

The Neo is a ‘six degrees of freedom’ (movement in all directions) standalone headset while the Eagle Mobile Home Theater, a recipient of a CES 2018 Innovation Award, is a mobile headset featuring noise cancelling headphones and a removable high-definition OLED display band. This display system will allow for a VR experience suited ideally for commuters and airline passengers as users will be able to maintain awareness of their surroundings.

Pico's Eagle Mobile Theater provides the equivalent of an 80 inch screen viewed from ten feet away.

360° cameras focused on social media

Two new Google consumer VR cameras caught Greenlight Insights’ eye.

Lenovo’s Mirage Daydream and YI Horizon VR180 are very similar in that they are 180° stereoscopic point-and-shoot cameras. Both are slim and compact, equipped with 2.2-inch touchscreens and live-stream capable—a major selling point in the digital world.

Insta360 also revealed a number of different options for everyone from professionals to consumers. The Nano S, which turns an iPhone into a 360 camera, has been updated and is now capable of taking 4K video and 20-megapixel photos. It also incorporates a social function that enables users to chat with others in 360 degrees.

Insta360 also unveiled a new device that allows people to shoot 3D video using 8 cameras in a resolution of close to 10K. Specific specs, pricing and release date info will be announced at a later date.

Finally, Insta360 unveiled a prototype of a new light-field system. With the help of 128 cameras, it creates a 180° video with 6 degrees of freedom, meaning viewers can actually “move” within the footage.

Insta360's prototype of a new light-field system.

Augmented reality glasses with sleek design and voice technology

CES hosted a number of exhibits of upgraded AR glasses including Lumus, which has paired up with Quanta. Latest-generation visors feature a top-down display, twin 1080p transparent lenses and a 40° field of vision. Also, there is more room for components along the top and sides. We also got a glimpse of what the future of these devices might look like, with a more stylish form that closely resembles real eyewear.

Vuzix’s Blade AR Smart Glasses

Vuzix has also come out with its Blade AR smart glasses, the first commercial integrated voice interfaced glasses destined for the consumer market. It’s expected that several manufacturers, such as Google and LG, are looking at voice as the preferred user interface choice for 2018 and focusing on technologies such as Alexa (Amazon) and Google Home.

Major CES themes: location-based VR and focusing on multiple markets

Greenlight Insights noted a number of major themes at this year’s CES.

In terms of entertainment, the focus was on products designed to change any new locations into venues for location-based VR. For example, the Timescope is a waterproof and vandalism-resistant terminal that can be installed in any public space to create on-site VR experiences. Yaw’s VR Compact Portable Motion Simulator also caught Greenlight Insights’ attention. This lightweight simulator weighs in at only 33 pounds, meaning you can pick it up and install it anywhere you want.

There was also more talk about VR/AR tech companies increasingly moving towards commercial uses. According to Greenlight Insights’ forecasts, “spending by commercial and enterprise end users will become the biggest portion of non-hardware industry revenues by 2019, and companies are thus beginning to position their products for these fast-growing segments.”

Finally, with respect to communications, there is a focus on new video chat solutions that are VR/AR ready. As the VR/AR technology sector expands, it’s clear that we’ll soon see more consumer-ready products that can be integrated into our everyday lives.

Julia Cook
Julia Cook is a freelance writer and marketing consultant from the East Coast of Canada. She worked for eight years with CBC in PEI and Newfoundland-Labrador as a broadcast journalist. During that time she tested her hand at radio, TV, and online news, as well as radio hosting, producing, and documentary making. Julia has spent years writing stories about the local arts communities and emerging technologies.
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