VR-Drohne Spherie © SpiceVR

Virtual reality on the rise

Series: Potential of virtual reality. Many firms in Hamburg already working with technology

A photo of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg smiling and striding through a room full of people made world headlines in February. Preoccupied with the action seen through their virtual reality headsets, nobody seemed to even notice him. The photo was taken at Samsung’s presentation at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and has since been published millions of times in social media, news outlets and blogs. The photo encapsulates the start of virtual reality’s march through the pubic sphere.

VR headsets propels wearer into middle of action

In an interview with nextMedia.Hamburg virtual reality expert Frank Steinicke, Professor at the University of Hamburg, noted: “The time is ripe.” Unlike the 1990s, when the technology was around, Steinicke believes the conditions for success are better now. “On the one hand, virtual reality/augmented reality technology was not really convincing then. And on the other hand, the entire technical environment was not ready.” So, at the time, virtual reality could not have lived up to the demands of the technology and as we now know it today. In the 21st century, games’ stories unfold on new, virtual reality headsets and show entire films or reports in a way that plunges the user bang into the middle of the action, Steinicke added.

Application fields range from games to medicine

Virtual reality technology has huge economic potential, says Stefan Klein, Project Manager gamecity:Hamburg. “Virtual reality is more than just new technology. It facilitates new forms of portrayal and an unprecedented immersion into content. That is of interest not only to the games sector, but to start-ups and service providers beyond the media such as tourism.” But virtual reality can also be used in medicine, as Prof. Boris Tolg explained in Digitalmagazin Unified by nextMedia.Hamburg: “There have been interesting fields of application for virtual reality for quite a while, for instance, in treating post-traumatic disorders. Patients can relive their experiences without risking the real danger again.”

Virtual reality Spherie drone at SXSW 2016

More and more companies in Hamburg are using virtual reality technology and not simply gaming giants like InnoGames, Goodgame Studios, Bigpoint or Gamigo. The VR-Nerds, a Hamburg-based collective of freelancers filmed a virtual reality video for Mitsubishi Motors that was shown at the IAA last year. The Hamburg-based start-up SpiceVR reached the final of the international South by Southwest (SXSW) creative fair in Austin, Texas with their “Spherie” drone containing an integrated 360-degree camera.

And Klein praises Absolute Software’s progressive thinking. This Hamburg-based digital agency is developing new fields of application for both virtual reality hardware and software for instance in flight simulation or vehicle configuration.

Impact similar to internet and smartphones

Virtual Reality sickness, is a recurring problem and implies unease associated with the technology due to the diverse signals conveyed to the human senses.

But Steinicke believes that the future is looking good for virtual and augmented reality, which can expand reality with overlays on smartphones as well. “If we can improve the hardware over the coming years and make it smaller and almost invisible, the impact of virtual reality and later augmented reality on our society will be on a scale similar to that of the internet and the smartphone.“

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