Why AR and VR are the Next Big Thing, with Charlie Fink


Exclusive Interview with: Charlie Fink

Former entertainment and tech executive, Charlie Fink is one of the world’s foremost authorities on Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and new media. He is a staple at AR and VR conferences and has also presented multiple times at CES and SXSW. Fink covers the latest on VR and AR in his regular column for Forbes. Additionally, he is a contributing writer to HuffPost, Virtual Reality Pop, and VR Scout. His recent book, Charlie Fink’s Metaverse, An AR Enhanced Guide to VR & AR, has been dubbed “the Bible of AR and VR” and explains everything you need to know about the past, present, and future of HoloLens, Oculus Rift, and similar technologies.

AR is seeping into the apps we use on our mobile phones every day without people even knowing it. We don’t say, “look at Google’s AR app!”; rather, we say “Google Maps just got better!”

SPEAKING.COM: For non-technical audiences, could you please guide us through some basic definitions of the different technologies you cover?

FINK: Virtual reality fully occludes, or replaces, the real world with a digital one. Augmented reality adds data, images, and sound to reality as it exists, augmenting it.

SPEAKING.COM: AR and VR have been in development for decades. Why do you think these technologies are going to expand into a $100+ billion industry within the next few years?

FINK: AR is going to grow quickly for two reasons:

1. Its applicability to enterprise, specifically assembly and warehousing. As we know there are only two ways for a company to increase its profit: charge more or spend less. AR accomplishes this with striking efficiency.

2. AR is seeping into the apps we use on our mobile phones every day without people even knowing it. We don’t say, “look at Google’s AR app!”; rather, we say “Google Maps just got better!” This is where the money is going to be made in the near-term.

Additionally, AR is going to impact retail in compelling ways. Perhaps we’ll use “magic mirror technology” to try on virtual clothes, which will be customized to our needs. Stores may no longer have physical inventory but rather will deliver to our homes custom, tailored, made-to-order merchandise within hours.

Concerning VR, it has some very effective enterprise use cases, such as training and simulation. It’s a terrific 3D design tool for engineers, architects, designers, and artists, but it’s having a hard time penetrating the consumer market. There are a variety of explanations for this, but in my view the core problem is the lack of an easily apprehensible consumer value proposition. If it’s not a game machine, people don’t know what it’s for.

SPEAKING.COM: You talk about the “killer app” being “other people.” How can AR and VR connect us to people in ways that other available technologies can’t?

FINK: VR’s most important quality is presence – the feeling that you are truly in another place. This is far more profound when shared. There is a real estate company with widely distributed employees who report to a virtual office every day.

In the future, AR will bring people who are physically distant into one another’s homes and offices. Conference rooms will be designed like the Jedi Council, with some members physically present, and others virtually present around the same table. This combination of the real and the virtual is the very essence of AR.

Likewise, it might work that way in the home, too. Imagine being virtually present with your children or grandchildren in another part of the world, or watching the Super Bowl with your friends in another city. The only thing you won’t be able to do is pass the popcorn!

It will be increasingly common until we finally reach a tipping point I call “the AOL moment”, when at last, consumers grasp VR and/or AR’s killer apps, and need to have one in the home.

SPEAKING.COM: What are some other practical applications that XR technologies currently offer?

FINK: Just to clarify: XR is a word we in the industry have cooked up to encompass all immersive and wearable computer technologies, AR, MR (Mixed Reality), and VR. My objection to it is that it wrongly conflates AR and VR, and has pushed MR out of the discussion completely. Also until last year, XR referred to bio-augmentation. I’ve decided not to fight the world over this definition, even though I am completely in the right. It’s hard to argue with convenience.

VR is being used extensively in training, the flight simulator is the most familiar example. When airline pilots sit in a cab based simulator on a motion base they are actually in Mixed Reality, which combines physical elements like real controls or props and other cues that enhance the illusion.

This same technology is powering public entertainment uses, called location-based entertainment (LBE) or, more specifically, LBVR. This has several flavors, including the humble VRcade, which is popping up all over the world as a sort of “internet café” where people rent high-end VR rigs they would never have in the home. Lower cost (and lower quality) VR for the home is becoming more available, notably with the recent release of the $200 Oculus Go.

People are going to be exposed to VR, and high- end AR glasses, like they were exposed to the computer: through work and play outside the home. It will be increasingly common until we finally reach a tipping point I call “the AOL moment”, when at last, consumers grasp VR and/or AR’s killer apps, and need to have one in the home. This is exactly what happened from 1993 to 1996 when the PC met the Internet through easy-to-use, inexpensive online services like AOL.

SPEAKING.COM: How much space is there in XR markets for newer companies, or do you think this area will be dominated by established tech giants like Google and Apple?

FINK: I am often asked this question by venture capitalists and investors. On one hand, one could argue that Apple, Google, FB, Amazon and Microsoft have already won and that the big will dominate this new world of wearable computing.

On the other hand, in almost every aspect of their business, all these companies are dependent on the small companies that create content and peripherals for their platforms. The more successful ones can go public or be acquired by one of the leading players for billions of dollars. I have not seen a wealth creation opportunity on this scale since the smartphone. Some evangelists believe the opportunity here is as big as the Internet itself.

SPEAKING.COM: What industries are most likely to be disrupted by AR and how?

FINK: Honestly, I think over the next ten years we should ask which industries won’t be using some kind of wearable computing to improve their processes.

SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the kinks that still need to be worked out of VR and what possibilities will open up once those obstacles are overcome?

FINK: The biggest problems with VR technology have to do with things outside its control: bandwidth and storage. A digital world fully occluding this one is a very, very large file indeed. Even if there were the bandwidth to deliver these files, where would we store them? A volumetric movie could be several petabytes of data. With a cable modem, it would take weeks to download it. Intel is working on this very problem.

I am much more concerned about privacy and authentication of our digital twins. In VR, a bad actor could easily pretend to be me. How would you know? Or how would the bank know?

SPEAKING.COM: Some doctors are worried about the psychological and physical effects of VR such as vision troubles or anxiety attacks. What are your thoughts on this?

FINK: Steven Spielberg’s recent movie Ready Player One suggests that in 2045, VR will be so good that people will prefer it to the real world. In that world, these doctors would rightly be concerned about the health of users.

In this world, VR is incredibly popular among handicapped people. In fact, a stunning eye-opening documentary just came out about it. In VR, particularly social VR, the old are young, the sick can walk, or fly, and avatars are far easier to control than broken bodies. This is a case where VR is actually benefiting participants’ health.

On another note, headsets are made for adult users, and many can’t accommodate the smaller inter-pupillary distance required for a child’s face. That would make the experience uncomfortable, and presumably, the kids would remove it as a result. There are researchers and others working on this problem, but given the state of the art, it’s premature to worry about this, in my opinion.

I am much more concerned about privacy and authentication of our digital twins. In VR, a bad actor could easily pretend to be me. How would you know? Or how would the bank know?

SPEAKING.COM: You created an AR-enabled book on AR and VR. What were some of the challenges of making that book?

FINK: There are many modes of AR, as we’ve discussed. My book uses what we call “marker-based AR” in which rudimentary computer vision recognizes a page, an image, a QR code and produces AR content anchored in place on the page (this is what Apple AR kit does), creating the illusion that the book’s illustrations (in this case a series of topical animated cartoons) are literally popping up out of the page.

A futurist is nothing more than a historian looking for repeating patterns. On that note, VR and AR seem to me to be repeating the development pattern of the personal computer, which took twenty years to penetrate 25% of American households.

SPEAKING.COM: While you were at Disney, you came up with the idea for The Lion King. What was your source of inspiration?

FINK: Everyone loves The Lion King origin story. It may have been the greatest elevator pitch ever: “Bambi in Africa.”

Bambi was my source of inspiration. It’s about more than growing up and the traumatic loss of a parent; it’s about the son replacing the father. The movie begins with the Great Stag overlooking the thicket where his son Bambi is born. The movie ends with the Great Stag overlooking the forest, but this time Bambi, now a Great Stag himself, steps up next to his father, who backs away leaving him on the bluff overlooking the thicket where his son is born. It is, literally, the circle of life.

The past presages the future. I was studying those old Disney movies. A futurist is nothing more than a historian looking for repeating patterns.

On that note, VR and AR seem to me to be repeating the development pattern of the personal computer, which took twenty years to penetrate 25% of American households.

To bring futurist and AR/VR speaker Charlie Fink to your organization, please contact Michael Frick at: Mike@Speaking.com

© SPEAKING.com, published on October 19, 2018

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