My thoughts on XR and future technologies
I’m excited to share my thoughts about the current state of the XR industry. Before I do, I want to introduce myself. My name is Chris Ebeling and I’ve worked in the XR and emerging tech space for a good 5 years now. My previous experience in the digital space is with Film, Games and Advertisement, where i mostly worked as a character animator, pre visualisation artist and creative director. More recently, I help build a unique Masters course, with focus on emerging technologies and learning by doing methodologies. The UTS Animal Logic Academy is a course that mimics the real world and is run like a real studio. All industry facing and industry led. In my time at UTSALA, we got to experiment, prototype and develop a lot of projects involving emerging technologies such as Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality. More recently, I have left the Research and Educational space to pursue a personal endeavour, founding a company (Virtually Human Studios) with some friends that focuses on entertainment in the digital space using emerging technologies. With this vast experience across more standard mediums such as Film, TV and games, coupled with my deep diving into the emerging tech space, I am excited to share my thoughts and future thinking on where I think we are heading. Please note, these thoughts are mine, based on my own experiences.
The Future is now – My thoughts on Extended Reality (XR)
With most people owning AR ready devices in their smartphones and tablets, we are at the early stages of an augmented world. “The metaverse” is a term that is often thrown around in the Emerging tech space and XR industry. We are in the beginning stages of this journey. The meta verse is a digital layer on reality. It is parallel universes digitally mapped onto our own. With general consumer technology beefing up to run Augmented reality and VR headsets becoming standalone and more affordable, we are seeing a massive uptick in new applications in this space. I want to break down my thoughts on each medium, and offer my opinions, ones that I am more than happy to discuss should you reach out to me.
Virtually Reality ( VR )
Virtual Reality has its space, and it’s an amazing one. There is no digital experience like it out there. Our minds are so easy to trick, us humans are simply wired devices, and to quote the great Morpheus from the Blockbuster hit The Matrix, “If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” With VR we are tapping into two of these senses, and advances in Tech also allow haptic feedback via bodysuits and I have tried some experiences containing smell, we are very close to creating the ultimate illusion. Books and Movies like Ready Player One are not that far away.
However, from my experience developing Virtual reality applications, this space is definitely not for everyone. I have made products for clients, to which the client did not want to try on the headset to view it. “It makes me feel sick”, or “It’s uncomfortable” are responses often heard. And this is true. Not everyone can read a book in a moving vehicle, or sit in the back of the bus. Human biological and anatomical differences prevent a lot of people from really enjoying Virtual Reality.
VR headsets don’t come cheap, and they are not easy to access. They are unfamiliar to most and they are not social experiences for the most part. We are seeing cheaper standalone headsets come to market, like the Quest 2, but if you really want to tap into the power of VR you need a decent cpu powering it. And this costs.
Augmented Reality ( AR)
Although the same can be said about Augmented Reality, it is not to the same degree as with VR. Augmented reality is accessible on most consumer devices these days. Newer phones and tablets can power AR. AR also taps into the familiarity of users. Most of them already own a phone, and have played games like Pokemon Go, which revolutionised AR gaming.
Augmented reality doesn’t confine a user, and as said is familiar.
With general consumer devices being AR ready, and game engines like Unreal and Unity being free to use and easy to access, my take is that the future is going to be Augmented. We are already seeing huge uptick with AR applications and not only in gaming, but in education, real-estate, the medical sector, ARTS, Entertainment and more.
With the internet at our fingertips (unlimited access to new and old knowledge), amazing game engines at our disposal for free, and devices ready to run these new experiences, we are at the forefront of a brave new technological revolution. As more developers create new experiences using these new technologies, we slowly begin to create a foundational language that will help drive new experiences. Much like how cinema language was born, and is still being built upon today, we will see the same evolution of AR application, through a lot of trial and error, that will ultimately define the development language.
This is where we need to define what MR and AR is. Augmented Reality is phone based experiences like Pokemon Go and SnapChat filters. Mixed Reality user high powered headsets like Microsoft’s Hololens. It’s a combination of VR and AR, however not as confining as it uses the real environment around you and mapping in 3D digital objects and assets into your world. This is the future! I am eagerly anticipating the next wave of Mixed reality specs and waiting for the next big push here. We weren’t ready for the google glasses and let’s be honest, they weren’t ready either, however when Apple drops their version of AR spectacles we will see mass adoption within days. And with mass adoption comes mass production! Building on this I foresee MR Digital specs tethered to your mobile device, linking it to the cloud using 8g networks, downloading data and mapping digital assets everywhere you look in real time. People will be wearing designer wearable specs, ray bans, and incorporate digital layers mapped over their field of view as part of the norm. You want to see what’s on the restaurant’s menu, simply look at the store front, ask “siri, alexa or other” for the menu and it will pop up in front of you. Need a place to stay, look at a hotel building, and see rooms highlighted with costings. You want to follow a diy video on youtube, why not map the handyman in 3D in your living room, and have him show you how it’s done. This along digital pets, 3D sports, and much more. I could go on…
Realtime is games, its VR, its AR, but what i want to touch on briefly here is the use of Realtime engines in Film/TV production coined as Virtual Production. Mandalorian has been trending for a while now, and the behind the scenes footage has educated most viewers on the power of using giant led capture stages for directors to shoot their stories. Jon Favreau (Director) has been a huge advocate for using emerging tech in film production, from VR shoot scouting massive 3D lands in the Lion King, to LED capture stages in the Mandalorian. In short this approach gives the director and production a much faster view of the final result, being able to capture 3D lighting onto the actors, standing in the 3D environment, in REAL TIME. In theory its my belief that you will be able to shoot 80-90% of your shots in one go. There will always be cleanup, and giant monsters needing to be added in 3D, however the flexibility and cost efficiency of this new approach is evident, and one we are seeing be adopted everywhere. A relevant side note here, since we are dealing with a global pandemic, is the ability to collaborate digitally, remotely and safely from anywhere. Less staff on set, and lighting being done digitally and sets being moved around digitally, means that these artists can do so remotely. Not to mention the money saved on logistics and travel. The evolution here could be one using mixed reality glasses. Where perhaps actors can project giant 3D monsters in front of them and perform alongside them creating more genuine and authentic performances.
I want to crossover to Blockchain technology, in particular Blockchain gaming, as this is a space I’m spending most of my time in these days. What really excites me about this space is the “Future of Gaming”. The potential to empower everyday gamers with valued assets (Non Fungible Token’s) and virtual currency that translate into Fiat ( real world money).
Gaming is a multi billion dollar business. Games are one of the highest grossing entertainment platforms, far exceeded that of film and tv. Esports is making waves, and it’s only a matter of time before it becomes an olympic sport. If we can include X-games, Esports is coming.
With blockchain technology democratizing transactions and currency, and a wave of games using this tech to create real value in digital assets and digital collectibles (look up NFT’s), I anticipate a world where a player puts in the time and money into upgrading his or her Avatar or vehicle in any given game ( fortnite, CoD, 2K, Need for speed etc ) unlocking, buying and collecting new skins/parts and animations that he/she can sell or trade for virtual currencies that hold real wealth. Take a sports game like NBA2K as an example, where users spend tonnes of time increasing their avatar’s attributes, skills, unique animations and digital attire. Giving the users utility to re-sell these rare items for profit. Empowering not just the hard core gamers that can exploit these awesome skills in tournaments (esports) or for streaming, but giving the power to the small time casual gamers (like me), who also can be rewarded for their time put in. We are already seeing games built on blockchain technology where such utility is possible, including one I’m currently involved with (ZED.run), and we are only scratching the surface on what’s possible. Imagine renting out your sports avatars to other teams, having him/her be sponsored by big corporations. Basically anything possible in the real world, can be made possible in the digital. This is the Meta Verse: A parallel universe that exists digitally as multiple layers above and below the one we live in. We are seeing digital worlds being built ( decentraland ) where users can buy and own land, and build anything they want on it ( in 3D ). Digital real estate, ultimately recreating popular games like “The Sims” and “Second Life” but using Blockchain, empowering the players to make real profits from time put in.
Building on this (pun intended) and the above, I see the future of gaming experiences being the ultimate mixed reality experiences incorporating more emerging technologies. We are seeing signs of this already, where fortnite users have the ability to cross play mobile, console and PC, which still blows my mind. I imagine adding Augmented Virtual and Mixed Reality to these cross play experiences, complementing the overall experience. As an example, you could summon your fortnite avatars onto your coffee table using AR, or scale them to real world sizes or bigger. Now change their skins and animations, then save them and bring them up on your console, where these changes are reflected. I imagine users showing off their rare skins in AR, and if they all carry real world value,can utilize AR tech to showcase their latest rare collectibles. “Hey! You want to buy or swap this skin?” or just give them the ability to dance alongside their avatar and record it for their socials. (in fortnite it’s all about the dance moves and skins )
Machine Learning (in games)
Finally and further adding advances in machine learning (neural networks) that can give your avatar (be it a basketball player or a race horse) “real life” digital DNA. Valuable digital assets that Live and breathe on the blockchain. An explosion of ideas comes to mind with machine learning. A quick example is imagining not visiting your avatar (playing the game) for a week, and this changes its emotion and mannerisms towards you. It may react excitedly to see you, it may have lost weight, faded in color or is showing resentment for being left alone for so long. This is something I like to call “Tamagotchi 10.0”. The hit digital device in the 90’s, where one had to take care of one’s digital pocket pet. Maybe you don’t have time to play the game, however alternatively you can log in via your phone, just to keep the avatar company, check in on it, make sure it’s ready for when you have time to play.
I see this and much more coming and I am excited to be a part of this ever evolving digital space.
One thing we have to be aware of and fight for, something that is lacking with current applications is regulations. We should all be aware by now on how addictive certain social media platforms and games can be. And it’s not fair that we don’t monitor and treat these addictions like we do with any other addictive substance. My take is Social media shouldn’t be allowed until the age of 16. Same could be said about some games that are designed to make you want to go again and again. We need stricter laws around the use of apps. With everything I believe and have said above, I feel that this is even more important now than before.
If you made it this far, I thank you for your time. Please find out more about me and the work that i do at www.chrisebeling.com and feel free to reach out to me via my website or on twitter @iamchrisebeling
Finally, I believe the future isn’t near, it’s here. And we can all take part in building it.
Thanks for reading my thoughts.
Creative Director and Co-Founder @ Virtually Human Studios.
About Blog Writer :
Creative Director and Co-Founder, Virtually Human Studios