Technological advancements in virtual and augmented reality have improved the outlook for the market, and Indiana’s universities are focused on new applications.
For example, just last year, David Whittinghill, Purdue University associate professor of computer graphics and IT, founded Virtualis LLC to develop a “virtual nose” embedded into a user’s field of view to ease virtual reality sickness.
And at Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing, researchers are exploring applications with IU’s School of Medicine that could help physicians use virtual and augmented reality to practice complicated surgeries before making the first incision.
“We’ve had conversations about AR headsets. The doctors get really excited,” said Zeb Wood, a lecturer in human-centered computing at IU’s School of Informatics and Computing, in Indianapolis.
Such devices could be used before or even during surgery to train clinicians.
But why the sudden interest in VR and AR after years of hype that failed to live up to expectations?
Heather Bellini, of Goldman Sachs Research, noted in a report last year that faster microprocessors and more powerful graphics cards have allowed more images per second to be delivered since the industry’s potential was hyped a decade ago.
Such improvements mean viewers are less likely to feel sick wearing VR headgear that completely obscures outside visual cues.
There have also been advancements in AR gear, like glasses that allow vision of the real world but also have data or graphical images projected onto part of the glass.
As such, Goldman Sachs is projecting VR and AR to become an $80 billion market by 2025 – roughly equivalent to the size of the current PC market.
Behold the ‘nasum virtualis’
That market trajectory could be even higher thanks to firms such as Virtualis.
Its claim to fame, so far, is a virtual nose (known as “nasum virtualis”) that can be incorporated into a VR field. Whittinghill notes that in the animal kingdom, “every terrestrial predator can see its nose.”
It turns out that one of the big problems with VR is “motion to photon latency,” which is the time it takes to turn your head and the screen to refresh at the same rate.
If photons from an image strike one’s retina out of phase with your head’s motion you could feel nauseous.
One solution: create a point of reference. Many of Whittinghill’s students got sick when playing VR games, except during one game in which there was a cockpit on the screen, which provided a fixed point of reference.
So they conducted a test of two groups of people viewing a virtual roller coaster ride. One group watched the ride with nasum virtualis superimposed into the video; the other group the same video without the nose.
They observed a 13.5 percent drop in severity of sickness and an increase of time in the simulator, “just by adding a simple component that doesn’t interfere with the game and is computationally very cheap,” Whittinghill said.
Virtualis’ goal is to license the Purdue-developed technology to content producers, game engine companies and perhaps to VR headset manufacturers.
“At present, we have not formed any firm partnerships and are presently involved in new product research,” Whittinghill said.
“We expect to unveil some exciting new IP by the end of the summer.”
Getting inside one’s head
Meanwhile, at IU, Wood and his students are looking at VR/AR solutions that could help neurosurgeons better get into patients’ heads – literally. He envisions virtual images that show in great detail structures of the brain such as blood vessels, so surgeons know better what to expect prior to surgery.
Head and neck surgeons, architects or even crime scene investigators also could benefit from virtual reality, he said.
He’s even sought to work with the IUPUI Sports Innovation Institute on AR applications.
Imagine a fan in town to attend a sporting event who, while watching the action, can also see on his glasses statistics about a favorite player.
Or, after the game is over, see directions to a restaurant displayed on the glasses as one walks down the sidewalk.