LAS VEGAS — Altered realities abound at the Consumer Electronics Show, touching everything from sports to sales to 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.”
Facebook-owned Oculus began taking pre-orders for its eagerly-anticipated Rift VR headsets at a price of $599 when the CES show floor opened on Wednesday. Rift is slated to begin shipping in March. The Oculus booth at the CES trade-only event had a seemingly endless queue of people waiting to dive into Rift.
HTC used CES to announce enhancements to a 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 said. “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 and more.
“Virtual reality is a big deal here,” Gartner 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.”
Information in the Air
NASA used Rift to let CES attendees virtually fly around a towering rocket that it plans to launch in 2018, while 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,” said Hugh “Trey” Cate of NASA.
San Francisco-firm Skully was at CES with its first augmented reality 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 $1,499 helmet.
Lumus AR technology has been used by U.S. military jet pilots: “It is battle-proven,” Ari Grobman told AFP. “It has been in combat almost daily in Iraq.”
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 motion or voice commands, according to Ketan Joshi of Atheer.
“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, health care, insurance, and oil-and-gas. Workers in the field are able to remotely tap into computer or brain power in the office for help with unfamiliar scenarios.
Grobman envisioned a day when a driver could slip on AR glasses to get help with a roadside repair or someone could use them to have a spouse guide them through cooking dinner. Travelers might one day slip on AR glasses to get translations displayed as they explore places where they don’t speak the language.
“We don’t believe, in the end, people will be wearing these glasses day in and day out,” Joshi said. “It is more the genie who comes to my aid and we solve a problem together.”
By Glenn Chapman
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2016