Virtual, Mixed and Augmented reality; the headset competition is heating up and there are more options than ever before. Why are you taking immersive headsets seriously now?
In just a few years, Meta’s Oculus Quest platform has sold over 20 million units, and its market share looks set to continue growing. Even Sony has acknowledged some success with the launch of the Playstation VR2 earlier this year, with 600,000 units shipped in the first six weeks alone. Even Apple entered the fray; the company announced the long-awaited Apple Vision Pro mixed-reality headset last June. Vision Pro boasts a host of class-leading offerings such as 4k resolution per eye screens, blazing speed and direct interface to Apple’s entire ecosystem of current products, but for an eye-popping $3499.
“Headset capabilities are evolving rapidly, allowing organizations like NASA and the Department of Defense to train operators in environments before entering the environment, but consumer adoption is lagging.” Vincent Peters, former SpaceX alum and founder of Inheritance AI, told Lifewire.
VR and AR: Not just for games
Six years ago, I co-founded the medical technology company eXpanded eXistence, which aimed to improve the modern operating room using artificial intelligence and mixed reality software. The big challenge we faced early on was developing software that surgical teams could use, but that didn’t disrupt the sterile spaces of the operating room, and that was easy for literally anyone to use. We chose to use Microsoft’s Hololens augmented reality (AR) headset platform (starting with the first-gen device and eventually moving up to their second-gen headset), which, like the Apple Vision Pro, costs $3500. The Hololens works like a lightweight laptop on your head, but instead of a screen, it uses holographic screens that are projected into your space, and instead of a keyboard, you use simple hand gestures or voice commands.
In our case, any surgical assistant can throw on a standard Hololens 2 loaded with our eXeX software and easily access all procedural information during surgery. They can wear the headset, track consumables, and follow every step of the procedure, even if it’s their first time working with a surgeon. In the last few months alone, we’ve assisted in hundreds of surgeries across the US and Europe thanks to essentially off-the-shelf augmented reality headsets armed with our software. Still, this case study only scratches the surface of what mixed reality headsets are doing for the industry.
In fact, mixed reality and virtual reality (VR) technology is finding impactful places across the medical industry. As Mina Fahim, president and CEO of MediView, told Lifewire her feelings about immersive technology in the space, “While healthcare XR ideas and concepts have been explored for the past 20+ years, recent technological advances now allow to bring innovation into life and capabilities realized in real-world applications.”
“MediView is reshaping how to visualize, consume and integrate standard-of-care imaging into [mixed] reality to unlock the full potential of familiar tools clinicians use today to understand, trust and adopt these new immersive solutions,” he added. “This is an exciting time to leverage game-changing technologies to accelerate and usher in the new era of clinical solutions.”
Baltu Technologies, a workforce development company, has been quietly working on AR/VR tools to support the future of the workplace. Led by a trio of executives with backgrounds including NASA, music composition, robotics and law, Baltu Technologies has combined its unique skills to drive innovation in the AR and VR space.
AR and VR in education
In a recent initiative, Baltu Technologies began integrating AR/VR head-mounted displays to expose high school students and transition workers to advanced manufacturing jobs. Baltu Technologies partners with organizations such as Chicanos Por La Causa, Inc. (CPLC) and Arizona’s Maricopa County Community College District, spearheading efforts to use digital twin technology to bring billion-dollar factories into the classroom. This type of exposure already dramatically affects participants, who can now experience what it’s like to build a helicopter or support microchip development from a safe and risk-free environment. With this type of effort, Baltu’s goal is to support the channeling of new employees to partners throughout the country.
Baltu has reported staggering reductions in training and content development time, with some cases experiencing a remarkable 90% drop. This allows ideas, knowledge sharing and learning to happen in hours instead of the weeks or days expected of these types of initiatives. Combined with machine learning technologies and advances in AR/VR head mounted display technology.
“This technology allows ideas and knowledge sharing to happen quickly, wherever we are, and in a way that aligns with how we already experience the world, in real time and in 3D,” said Baltu CTO Dennis Bonilla in an email.
Speaking of education, there are many other great examples of how schools are using mixed reality to empower the students and workers of the future.
“In the technology sector, we have been working with mixed reality since 2017,” high school teacher Ewout Warringa told Lifewire in an email, “and in particular in the construction education courses for visualization of 2D working drawings.”
Powerful technology for everyone
In 2020, Microsoft debuted its Dynamics 365 Guides for its augmented reality Hololens headset, which offered effective tools for both developers and manufacturers to create powerful holographic guides that allow untrained workers to perform complex tasks without requiring outside observation. This has been a HUGE tool for a variety of manufacturers. For example, PACCAR trains new employees to build entire tractor trailers by putting a headset on them and having them watch step-by-step holograms that show them exactly what to do. The software can literally recognize physical objects from their manufacturing process, such as a door, and will overlay precise holographic guides and videos to show them everything they need to know to complete a given task.
We may be on the precipice of powerful and affordable mixed reality options for the general consumer market. AR and VR headsets have been positively disrupting key industrial markets for years. As I mentioned before, I’m excited about Apple Vision Pro for its breakthrough in display technology, improved class-leading hand gesture recognition tools, and breakthrough processor performance. I really feel like it’s something that can be effective for our med-tech applications, and the $3499 price tag is no surprise to us since its high-end competitors like the Magic Leap 2 and Hololens 2 are around the same price point. That being said, I hope that consumers start to see the light of how powerful mixed reality headsets can really be, so that companies like Meta, HTC, Microsoft, Apple, and Magic Leap can continue to develop the technology and make it more accessible To everyone.
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