Our search for future design icons has in recent months led us in a very obvious direction.
Virtually everywhere there are discussions of Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR) – “creating realistic holograms superimposed on your field of vision” (Max Chaikin) – as experienced by a user wearing a headset. This may be a standalone product or a dock system, used with a compatible mobile phone, for example.
Virtual Reality had an outing some years ago, to limited success, but VR has returned and is backed by one of the biggest names in the tech world.
The Oculus Rift VR headset made by Oculus VR, now a division of Facebook Inc., was launched in March 2016 after several years of media frenzy in WIRED – see here the WIRED “9/10” launch review Oculus Rift Wired Launch Review and similar magazines.
A 2012 Kickstarter campaign was launched that raised $2.4m (secured in a matter of a few hours from 10,000 investors) to fund the development of the Oculus Rift. In March 2014, Facebook purchased Oculus Rift for an astonishing $2bn. The founder of Oculus, Palmer Luckey (24), has recently been the subject of a media storm, following an unsuccessful defence of a $500m copyright dispute, he has left Facebook.
The Rift has a stereoscopic display, with a 110° field of view and integrated headphones that give a 3D audio effect. Its positional tracking system, called “Constellation”, employs infrared sensors that pick up light that is emitted by infrared LEDs creating the appearance of a 3D space thus allowing the user to move, stand and sit – as though within the action – whilst “watching” the internal display. In Mark Zuckerberg’s words it gives the wearer “an immersive 3D experience”.
Luckey chose to call the headset the “Oculus” – Latin for eye (in his earlier life when repairing and reselling damaged iPhones secured off the net, Luckey also accidentally bored a small hole in one retina using a laser) “Rift” (the way VR “creates a rift between the real world and the virtual world”).
Following its early round funding “development kits” were prepared to give game developers the chance to review the technology and to create content ahead of the Oculus release.
Two developer kits – updated prototypes – the DK1 and DK2 were released in 2013 and 2014, respectively and in February 2015, Oculus announced that over 100,000 DK2 units had been sold.
On January 6, 2016, pre-orders for the consumer version started, at $599.99. On March 25, 2016, the first batch of Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets began shipping to consumers. Sales figures suggest that around 400,000 headsets were sold in 2016.
Whilst Zuckerberg saw the Oculus headset as perfect for gaming, it has emerged that his acquisition logic was more profound. Given that Facebook wasn’t a force when mobile telephony exploded, as VR finds new social applications and work based uses particularly in the fields of architecture, design, medicine, education, TV and sports presentation, through Oculus, Facebook will be suppling the tech solution for future generations.
With development to bring the technology of the Oculus to a more wearable version – possibly similar to a pair of glasses – VR’s future seems very bright.