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Jetzt bricht das VR-Zeitalter an - © Professor Frank Steinicke

Era of virtual reality crucial to Hamburg's future

Eyeing the future is Professor Frank Steinicke's occupation at University of Hamburg. In an interview with Hamburg News, his focus turns to importance of virtual reality - a key issue during Social Media Week

Professor Frank Steinicke will not be among the delegates at this year’s Social Media Week Hamburg from February 27-March 3, 2017. The head of the research division, Human Computer Interaction at the University of Hamburg, is currently conducting research at the Human Interface Technology Lab in Christchurch, New Zealand and has taken time for an interview with Hamburg News. Professor Steinicke explains why he is fascinated by virtual reality and talks about the technical requirements and the diverse uses of virtual reality.

Hamburg News: Professor Steinicke, why is virtual reality so fascinating?

Professor Frank Steinicke: Virtual reality allows people to immerse themselves fully and with all their senses in a computer-generated world. The fascination lies in the fact that people forget totally that they are in in a virtual world.

Hamburg News: We witnessed this fascination during the 1990s. At the time, a breakthrough in technology seemed within reach – but nothing came of that.

Professor Frank Steinicke: At the time, the first virtual reality hardware was on sale or could be tried out in slot gaming machines. The elation and vision available through this technology was enormous. However, it soon became clear that the technology was not that far along. The quality of the depicted, virtual surroundings was very poor and very limited. The hardware was far too costly and awkward to use. Virtual reality did not prove to be the way in which people interacted with the computer at the turn of the millennium. The revolution occurred later with smartphones.

Hamburg News: But now the time is ripe, you believe. Why now?

Professor Frank Steinicke: The technology has finally reached a quality that shows where the potential for many sectors lies and can be used precisely there. However, it will take one or two new generations of devices until the technology is sufficiently good for every sector. But it will not vanish from our lives. Ironically, the rapid developments in this sector are due especially to improved smartphones as all the relevant components are based on them.

Hamburg News: Is virtual reality actually known to a wide public? Can you put a figure on the number of people who have already tried out a virtual world?

Professor Frank Steinicke: That’s difficult to say. During my lectures, I often ask the audience how many have heard of virtual reality or augmented reality and have already tested such a headset. Meanwhile, many people have heard of it, but only about a third have tried it out. However, my listeners usually have a special interest in the topic.

Hamburg News: At present, the games sector is prioritising virtual reality. Where else do you see possibilities for use?

Professor Frank Steinicke: Apart from the games sector, every sector that is dealing inherently with 3D data can benefit from virtual reality. As we live in a 3D world, that affects nearly every branch. But we will see this technology used successfully especially in the property sector, architecture as well as 3D planning and simulation. We are already doing so to a certain extent. Social, virtual reality surroundings, in which we can communicate with each across long distances, as if we were in the same room, are becoming more important. Facebook has purchased Oculus, the leading U.S. provider of hardware and virtual reality technology for over USD 2 billion making it the biggest investment in the history of virtual reality, and did not do so for nothing. Mark Zuckerberg is convinced that virtual reality will revolutionise the way in which we communicate with each other in future.

Hamburg News: So virtual reality will probably change the media and digital sector?

Professor Frank Steinicke: That is the assumption. Virtual reality and augmented reality offer huge possibilities for transporting media content to our field of vision and in an immersive way. In a few years, we will look back and laugh at this era when we were walking around the streets with our heads down looking at our smartphones.

Hamburg News: Are there promising virtual reality projects in Hamburg?

Professor Frank Steinicke: Hamburg has some interesting projects in diverse sectors ranging from research to industry. They include simple, exciting virtual reality games to sports training with augmented reality headsets to virtual reality visualisation of architecture and interactive 360° video productions. Many exciting and competitive things exist as evidenced by the recent Auggie Award at the first Augmented World Expo Europe 2016 for the Hamburg-based Viewlicity GmbH. Their PuttView system is also a finalist at CeBIT 2017. Hamburg has recently highlighted the huge importance of this innovative technology and the opportunities for the city and will further promote them. Hamburg is also to be expanded as an information technology location. That is an absolute must in order to shape digital transformation successfully in Hamburg and to remain competitive in future.

Hamburg News: Can you highlight the economic importance of virtual reality and how money can be earned with it?

Professor Frank Steinicke: Yes, that has been happening for many years in high-end sectors such as gas and oil or in aviation and the automobile industry. The clearly reduced hardware has given many other sectors far more opportunities for using the technology and we will see many new applications areas over the next five years.

Hamburg News: What’s next in terms of virtual reality and other technology?

Professor Frank Steinicke: We are on the threshold of diverse technology from the so-called mixed reality continuum, of which augmented reality is the best known. However, the technology still lags behind somewhat. It will be interesting to see how technology like the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality can be combined and integrated in the various applications and systems.

Hamburg News: As a professor of Human Computer Interaction at the University of Hamburg, which projects will be you be tackling next?

Professor Frank Steinicke: We are working in particular on the interface between man and the computer. It is important to understand how we humans perceive such virtual worlds and how we can interact naturally with the displayed data and not just with the mouse and keyboard, but using gestures, glances and language. At present, we wish to research the impact of long-term use of immersive technology on the brain.
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Interview by Yvonne Scheller

Sources and further information:
www.inf.uni-hamburg.de

Professor Frank Steinicke

Frank Steinicke, 39, has been professor of Human Computer Interaction at the Faculty of Informatics at the University of Hamburg since April 2011. His work focuses on researching human perception and its cognitive and motoric limits with a view to reforming the interaction and experience of realities conveyed by the computer. Steinicke is in demand as a panellist and speaker at national and international virtual reality events focusing on human computer interaction and is head of the IEEE Virtual Reality 2017/2018 programme conference. At present, Steinicke is researching virtual reality and mixed reality at the Human Interface Technology Lab in Christchurch, New Zealand.

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