Iribe says Oculus is virtually there

Oculus Rift Crescent Bay
Oculus Rift Crescent Bay. Image: Oculus

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7 November 2014 | 0

Niall Kitson portraitGetting to any of the talks at the Web Summit this week was hard work but I managed to take in enough to get a sense of the new zeitgeist. The short version is that cloud, mobile and social are the norm; the Internet of Things will be next year’s norm; and no one wants to talk about wearables until Apple drops its Watch on us – so it won’t be norm for a while yet. Side note: if you can describe your start-up in the form ‘Netflix/Uber/airbnb for ______’ then it’s likely not a good idea (unless it involves pets).

If you want to be on point then 3D printing and virtual reality was where the most exciting conversations were being had.

For one, 3D printing start-up Love & Robots took the top prize at the ESB Spark of Genius awards, beating out 30 shortlisted entries in areas as diverse as cloud services and assistive technology. You can listen to this week’s TechRadio podcast for a sample of the impressive local talent on show, which includes a talk with Love & Robots CEO Emer O’Daly.

In virtual reality, two talks stood out and I’ll take them in reverse order. Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe fielded some basic questions about the company’s ongoing development of the rift. The short version goes that a consumer release is months, not years, away and that most of the kinks have already been worked out in the current Bay Trail developer release. Iribe gave the impression that with function largely addressed industrial design is his next concern. Whatever the Rift will look like when it hits the shelves Iribe said it will be more like a set of ski-goggles than the “embarrassing” 90s-era design of the first prototype. There’s a part of me that was looking forward to looking like an extra from a Shin’ya Tsukamoto film but it won’t damped my enthusiasm for the finished product.

The most illuminating aspect of Iribe’s interview was his frankness about how the Rift will be used. It was understood that gaming would be the gateway medium for it, followed by healthcare but beyond that who knows. It’s that sense of infinite possibility that has people so excited about VR.

Iribe mentioned the race to market between Oculus, Samsung and Sony, asking only that whatever products are released master the issues of motion sickness and latency lest the entire sector be sent back 20 years.

Therapeutic
What Iribe delivered on theoretical and businesses fronts was trumped by his predecessor on stage, Dr Albert Rizzo from the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California, Dr Albert “Skip” Rizzo has been using virtual reality since the 90s as part of an exposure therapy programme for soldiers. Rizzo’s studies in the 90s used headsets with rudimentary graphics found that in recalled events played out in VR, test subjects reported elements that were not included in the original presentation. Where the simulation might have shown a gun attack in an open field, subjects would report being most afraid of sniper fire – despite there being no sniper.

With the Rift, Dr Rizzo has been experimenting with more detailed simulations of deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan with positive results. This intersection of gaming, virtual reality, cinematic storytelling and clinical psychology could see exposure therapy applied in numerous other contexts, from road traffic accidents to sex attacks.

If the Web Summit was scuppered by bad Wi-Fi, there were plenty of ideas around to make up for the inconvenience. My take-home was that VR is closer to actual R than you might think.

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