21 September 2018, issue 178

Survey the Sunken Terrors

Headline of the Week: Take this survey aimed at VR headset owners.
Deep Dive: Bringing sunken civilizations to the light.
Hardware & Ecosystem: Firefox VR browser launches.
New Releases: These AR games aren't an after-thought.
Worth a Thousand Words: The Weather Channel is really getting AR right.
The Breakdown: What if we're all living in VR right now?
The Light Side: Seaworld just can't clean their VR headsets fast enough.

Headline of the Week

Virtual Reality Headset Ownership & Use Survey

"This study of virtual reality headset ownership and usage is being conducted by Road To VR and Greenlight Insights. Thank you for your participation. ... The survey will take about 5 minutes to complete. As a token of our appreciation, all respondents who complete the questionnaire will be entered into a drawing to win an Amazon gift card (value: $150)."

I'm a sucker for 'will be entered into a draw to win', but even if you're not as gullible as I am, it's great to help out the industry and give them an idea of what kind of use your headset gets. Check it out!

Deep Dive

Virtual Reality Brings Sunken Civilizations to Life

"The app, developed by the European research project iMARECULTURE, recreates the villa in 3D on the mobile screen, so the diver can travel through the virtual city while exploring its submerged ruins. "

It can be hard for divers to place themselves in sunken ruins. This augmented reality app recreates the original cities in full splendour, so they can compare what they're seeing to what might once have been present. They're also hoping to make a version for those of us who can't (or are too utterly petrified to) dive, so that these cities will be viewable on land.

Hardware & Ecosystem

Firefox VR Browser for Oculus Go, Daydream Headsets Here

"Mozilla's Sean White argued that web-based VR wasn’t just better for developers looking to bring their games and experiences to multiple headsets, but that the technology also offered a better user experience. When users don’t have to download and install an app before accessing it, they’d be able to more easily discover and try out new experiences. “The web will matter more and more” for VR, he said. "

It's true that the app model is frustrating and time-consuming. Being able to move away from that would be incredible, though buffering time will be an interesting challenge. If the entire game needs to stream over my internet connection, how will that impact the supposedly better user experience?

New Releases

Illumix Raises $8.6 Million For Better AR Games

"Sinha argued that a lot of the existing AR titles merely treated AR as a fancy feature, and not a technology with a purpose. “A lot of games are better as mobile games,” she said. “Not everything should be in AR.”  One example: Many of the current AR titles are tabletop games that rely on surfaces captured by a phone’s camera to visualize fairly traditional game play. Only, most people don’t have a big, empty table that they can run around in their homes. She also argued that many titles put an undue burden on players by requiring them to pre-map spaces, which isn’t how people use their phones."

We've been saying that since Pokemon Go became the first augmented reality game, and everyone quickly turned most of the AR features off because they were battery suckers and also made it harder to aim and actually hit the thing with the Pokeball. We've yet to see any games that have blown us away for their use of integration, intentionally AR. Hopefully Illumix comes through.

Worth a Thousand Words

This Terrifying AR Video Shows You Inside a Storm Surge

"As Hurricane Florence approached, meteorologists warned North Carolinians about the potential for destructive flooding and storm surges, but some chose to ignore official forecasts. It can be difficult to visualize exactly what a storm surge looks like, but The Weather Channel is betting that its new immersive augmented-reality technology will change that."

The fact that there are still some people who refuse to run away from hurricanes is mind boggling. But good for the Weather Channel for working to help them, and using technology to showcase just how terrifying a hurricane really is from the inside. They're really knocking it out of the park in terms of using immersive tech in interesting ways that are still cheap and accessible.

The Breakdown

How Do You Know We Aren’t in Virtual Reality Right Now?

"It is easy to believe the world around us is real. But it’s possible that it’s a dream or a very complex computer simulation. Maybe we’re all plugged into a very powerful computer that is providing us with a virtual reality experience that makes us think we’re somewhere else. If the simulation is really good and looks like the real world, we might not know we’re in a simulation."

This article is targeting at children so it takes a pretty simplistic view of the question, but it raises the old questions we're all so familiar with in an interesting way. Could we be living in a simulation? And if we were - would that be a good thing or a bad thing? If VR gets to the point where it's actually capable of mirroring the world, how many of us will start to live exclusively in worlds that we can control? Is paradise hollow just because it isn't real? Or will the virtual grow to be as respected as the real, in the same way that it's no longer shameful to have met your romantic partner online, or to have a job playing video games.

The Light Side

SeaWorld: Kraken Roller Coaster Ditches VR Headsets

"Kraken Unleashed has gone back to being a regular roller coaster again at SeaWorld Orlando, with a virtual reality experiment ended a little more than a year after it began. SeaWorld began phasing out the ride’s VR headsets this summer because of poor guest reviews and to keep the wait times shorter during the busier days."

The poor reviews don't really get any further coverage, so it's hard to say how much they impacted it, but wait times is a challenge that VR theme parks will have to address. Even just swapping the face covering on a mask out for another one takes way more time than putting a strap on someone's chest. The only solution would be having enough headsets for riders so that the spares could be quickly cleaned during the ride, which might be doable depending on the length of the ride.