Sampling virtual reality via Qualcomm's Vuforia technology.
Sampling virtual reality via Qualcomm’s Vuforia technology.

By Leonard Novarro

We have seen the future — and it is now.

“Virtual Reality and the Future of Immersive Experiences” was the theme of this month’s meeting of  TiE Southcoast last week at Janssen Research & Development in La Jolla.

But as moderator Barry Sandrew of the Tesla Foundation Entertainment Lab told the gathering: We are there already “in a land we have never been before.” And some 50 guests of TiE, which stands for The Indus Entrepreneurs, an organization dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship and technology, got a good glimpse of it.

Virtual reality can take you inside a store so you can stroll through the merchandise before you order it on line. Say you are looking for a new sofa. VR can set that sofa up in your living room for you to see how it fits and looks. VR  is already used to treat autism and stroke victims, and it can immerse you in a video game so that you are within it, not viewing it from your computer or play station.

“We build these expensive systems to see how we will live in the future (so) we can interact with the virtual reality world in a natural way. That’s where we are going,” said Dr. Jurgen Schulze, assistant research scientist of UC San Diego’s Qualcomm Institute.

Before the panel discussion began, some of the guests tried out Qualcomm’s augmented reality platform being developed  by Roy Ashok, manager of the company’s Vuforia project. Peering into a goggle-like viewer with two lenses manipulated by a smart phone, flat images of a woman and a dinosaur on a magazine page came to life. “The woman stood up and the dinosaur popped up and walked around ,” said guest Rosalynn Carmen, president of the Asian Heritage Society. Ashok later discussed how Vuforia’s special software can be implanted in a cell phone.

Panelists also discussed the difference between VR and augmented reality, or AR, which takes a real world image and supplements it by a computer-generated sensory output to enhance the viewer’s perception, as Vuforia does through a smart phone. Virtual reality, on the other hand, creates a three-dimensional image of an environment that, with the use of special equipment, makes it seem as if you are passing through it.

Essentially, both are a form of hallucination that tricks the brain into believing it is seeing something that is not actually there.

“In five seconds you are fully immersed in this world,” offered Amir Rubin, CEO and co-founder of Sixsense Entertainment, developer of a 3D software platform used for gaming, fitness and other uses, some of them medical. While 20 percent of applications are used for entertainment, such as video games, 30 percent are already being used in tackling diseases such as Alzheimer’s, he pointed out. “We have all the components in place to become the next best medium,” he said.

“Virtual reality is a very hot subject,” said Julien Blin, managing director of Gizworld, a global consultant in wearable computing, adding that some devices already on the market are selling for as little as $30. By 2020, he predicted, there will be some 100 million such devices for consumers.

Matt Gordon, vice president of marketing for VSN Mobil, demonstrated a 3D camera his company created that “even a ten-year-old can use.” Rather than previous ventures that took as many as six lenses  attached to each other, his company’s 3D camera is a small mobile device that can be mounted on a bike, surfboard or hood of a car. Cylindrical in shape, the camera shoots surroundings in 360 degrees and funnels the images down through the cylinder, where they are gathered and sliced together in real time. The result can then be viewed on computer or any related device such as a smart phone.

According to Ashok, 125,000 developers throughout the world are working on applications for Vuforia alone. “This is a global phenomenon,” he said. “Augmented reality will (eventually) reinvent how you see the world.”

Leonard Novarro is co-founder of Asia Media America and the Asian Heritage Society.