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364. Nowhere? Now Here!

Virtual World Right in Front of Your Eyes

Park, Su-yeon, So, Yi-hyeon, Jang, Min-young 기자2016.11.07 16:37:29


Pokémon Go has been riding a big wave since its release on July 6th, 2016. It became the most grossing application on the day it launched, and the influence was undeniable even to non-gamers. Pokémon Go is based on an Augmented Reality (AR) technology which combines the real and the virtual world. The contents developed using Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies are significantly affecting our lives. Thus, it is important to understand what exactly these technologies are and what the difference between them is.

 

VR, Who Are You?

In general, Virtual Reality (VR) means near-reality which we perceive through our senses, like images and sounds generated by computer programs. Since childhood, we have learned about five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. However, it is not enough to think only of these senses because they are no more than the most obvious sense organs, and VR is able to stimulate not only these five senses but also some others. For example, the “proprioception sense,” called “the sixth sense,” helps us spatially and to detect the mobility of muscles and joints. In fact, everything in this world comes to us through our senses. Our brain accepts the sensory information and allows us to register it. This mechanism makes Virtual Reality possible. Even though a computer creates something unreal, we can detect it as real from our perspective.   

Difference of VR/AR

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are related, but they are different. They are usually referred together and are confused with each other because of insufficient information. However, the difference between them is key to understanding each concept. Their most similar point is that they can make people feel something unreal. Where they differ, is the recognition of presence. Virtual Reality creates an illusion of being in another world, completely separated from reality. Wearing VR headsets such as Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) blocks the current world and deludes the users to feel that they are elsewhere. It is actually dramatic that we feel the situation even if we do not really experience it in reality.

AR, a recent variation of VR, belongs to Mixed Reality, which is a combination of the virtual and real worlds. There are two famous examples of AR that help in the understanding of it. Many of us  have encountered images using this concept through the media. In the Japanese animation, Dragon Ball, the characters learn about the fighting power of each other using “Scouter”. More recently, Tony Stark of Iron Man gets information about buildings or other things when he wears a special suit. As this shows, AR provides more freedom to the user and can be displayed with no HMD.

In summary, VR is a newly created world discriminated from reality, while AR integrates the virtual world with reality, not discriminating between them. Accordingly, the research by Ronald T. Azuma of Hughes Research Laboratories (HRL Laboratories) mentions three characteristics of AR: it combines the real and virtual, it is interactive in real time, and it is registered in 3-Dimensions. He suggests that we should not limit AR as a specific technology because some researchers only define AR in a way that requires the use of HMDs.

Early Attempts on VR/AR

Though there are many discussions about VR/AR now, their concepts and technologies did not suddenly appear in the 21st century. In fact, they go back much further than many of us realize. In the past, many pioneers tried endlessly to devise techniques to make the created situations more realistic. Although there were trials and errors because of low technical skills and financial problems, all of them contributed to the situation we have now reached. 

If we set the scope of VR on creating the illusion that people feel as if they were somewhere that does not exist, then the earliest attempt can be seen in the panoramic paintings of the 19th century. The 360-degree mural paintings which describe a historic event made people feel as if they were in that scene. In 1938, Charles Wheatstone suggested in his research that the brain processes the different 2-Dimensional images from each eye, and combines them into a single object having three dimensions. This is why if you overlap two 2-D images to some extent, and look at them using a stereoscope, they appear as a 3-D object. In the 1930s, the science fiction writer Stanley G. Weinbaum predicted VR in his novel, Pygmalion’s Spectacles. He described wearing goggles like modern HMDs, which were first invented in 1960, and experiencing virtual reality. After that, in 1960, the first motion tracking HMD was invented by two Philco Corporation engineers, Comeau and Bryan. In addition, the “ultimate display” concept that encompasses virtual reality today was described by Ivan Sutherland in 1965. In 1968, later than the appearance of VR, the concept of AR emerged due to advances in technology. Since then, they have been applied in many fields. Recently, companies like Google and Samsung have released related products, such as Google Glass and Galaxy Gear.

It seems obvious that 2016 will be a key year in the VR/AR industries. They are creating many contents in various fields and still have infinite potential. As they have shown rapid growth and unbelievable developments, people anticipate diverse experiences using VR and AR technologies in the near future.


According to Digital Capital, an investment bank in the United Kingdom, the global VR/AR market value will reach 150 billion dollars (about 173 trillion won) in 2020. The growth potential of the AR industry is larger than that of VR, reaching 120 billion dollars, whereas the VR industry will reach 30 billion dollars. After VR/ AR technologies are commercialized, related industries will become larger.

Applications in the Field of Education, Construction, and Culture

Using VR technology, learners can be more visually aware of their classmates and can converse in real-time with each other, despite their remote physical locations. They can also get feedback immediately from their tutors and gain a sense of being present in the same place with their peers. These environments also facilitate simultaneous viewing of learning materials and allow participants to actively take part in group discussions. AR applications can complement a standard curriculum. Text, graphics, video and audio can be superimposed into a learner's real time environment. By using AR technology, learners can participate interactively with a computer-generated simulation of historical events, exploring and learning the details of each significant area of the event site.[1]

           Will VR/AR technologies, which have caused a sensation in the education world, become the new growth engine of the construction industry? A majority of experts believe they will. Seo, Myeong-bae, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology, said that unlike the manufacturing industry, construction cannot show products before completing construction projects. By using VR/AR technologies, construction can overcome this weakness. For example, if consumers can experience an apartment before it is built, it can benefit both the consumer and the construction company, which creates a synergistic effect.

           VR/AR Technologies can be utilized in the Culture industry as well. According to the CEO of Rukkus, a virtual reality ticket company in New York City, unlike 2-D images, a VR depiction of an entertainment venue or sports arena can help ensure that consumers see how far a seat is from the stage, and how close they’ll be to the players or artists. VR ticket-selling helps buyers meet their expectations and assess the true monetary value of the seat they choose.

VR/AR Technologies in Korea

According to the Korean Intellectual Property Office, there are many patent applications for AR technology in the field of education (13.4%), medicine (11.6%), culture (9.0%), and broadcasting & advertising (8.6%). On the other hand, there are more patent applications for VR technology than AR technology, especially in the fields of general industry (18%), games (17%), and the military (5.2%).

According to the Korea Virtual Reality Industry Association, the VR market recorded approximately 9.7 billion won last year and expected to record approximately 5.7 trillion won in 2020.

Business Trend of Three Telecommunication Companies in Korea: SK Telecom, KT, and LGU+

Three telecommunication companies actively participate in developing VR/AR technology services. SK Telecom began to provide a VR video service using ‘Oksusu’, which is a mobile video platform of SK Broadband. In addition, the company launched ‘T-Real’, which enables users to produce VR/AR contents. ‘T-Real’ is the platform that provides VR/AR technologies. Using this platform, the users can upload VR/AR contents to cloud servers and display them on their screen.

KT plans to release services that utilize AR technology in the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. The Converging Technology Institute is conducting a study on related technology for the service. In addition, they are preparing an AR service using IPTV.

LGU+ provides VR contents using the ‘LTE Video Portal’, which is a platform for mobile video. Using this platform, the company supports KBS’s ‘Two Days, One night’ and JTBC’s ‘Please Take Care of My Refrigerator’. In addition, they held the 2016 KOREA 360VR Creator Challenge, concentrating on VR development and marketing.

The Future of VR/AR: Development Strategies

Pokémon Go brought AR to the world’s attention. With its mounting popularity, the VR and AR technologies are expected to be vigorously researched and developed. Even tech giants like Tim Cook and Bill Gates see VR and AR as core technologies. Collections of the international and domestic statements on the future of VR/AR suggest that the prosperity of VR and AR technologies seems to be heavily depending on three areas: Research and development (R&D) of the fundamental technology; the creation of platforms to conveniently perform the technologies on; and the development of contents that can be widely enjoyed.

1) International Efforts on VR/AR Development

           On August 26, 2016, a press conference on ‘VR/AR Insight’ was held in Seoul. Sean Nichols, the branch manager of Blippar Japan, and Scott Fisher, the dean of the department of Interactive Media at University of Southern California, attended the conference to share their views on the future of VR/AR.

Blippar is a British enterprise that provides an AR application which uses AR and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies for marketing and visual search. Using the application, users can access product information on the screen. Sean Nichols explained that in the future, technology that recognizes images will become the core value of the AR world. Nichols expects that in this world, keyboards will be unnecessary because unlike the current browsers which require typing texts, Blippar’s browser will scan an image to present search results. Nichols added that the current AR works by just placing digital layers on top of reality, but in the near future, people will be able to interact with the technology by touching or operating an object inside the augmented reality. Moreover, there will be diverse platforms available to experience the technology. He explained that a device with a camera is the only fundamental element to a platform. Thus, in the next generation, it will be possible to execute the technology through unimaginably convenient devices such as glasses or contact lenses.

The pioneer of VR technology, Scott Fisher, is known for his participation in the NASA VR project in 1985. At that time, NASA needed VR technology to cope with problems that are outside of a space shuttle, while staying inside the shuttle. Currently, bulky VR headsets such as Head-Mounted Displays have to be worn, but researchers are focusing on creating smaller and lighter devices. Furthermore, a research is being conducted on providing VR images by projecting a laser directly to the user’s eyes. Despite the 30 years that have passed since the birth of VR, he resents the lack of everyday content of the technology although there are many platforms being invented. Scott Fisher and Bill Gates share the idea that VR and AR may end up converged, creating a mixed reality.

2) Domestic Aims on VR/AR Development

The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) held an opening ceremony of its AR Research Center on September 1, 2016. The research center will focus on adapting AR technology to the fields of cultural heritage, edutainment, commerce, and smart cities. The center will be occupied with AR agents that are capable of understanding human users. Also, it will work on the visualization of AI. These developments of ‘AR Human’ technology are expected to bring about an expansion of the social skills and intellectual capacity of AI. Along with the expansion, the center has announced that it expects a growth of physical capability through 3-D interaction. Moreover, AR platforms will develop and utilize various contents. The president of the research center has remarked that if AR combines with Software industries such as Internet of the Things (IoT), Big Data, and AI technologies, the industry will have potential to start the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The Korean government also took a step toward technological growth by setting a goal of becoming one of the top 3 countries in terms of VR/AR technologies. The Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) has presented VR and AR as one of the nine national strategies that will affect the future. The MSIP strives to strengthen the national competitiveness of VR/ AR technologies. In the second National Science and Technology Strategy Conference, held on August 10, 2016, the government announced its goal to raise the VR/AR market share to 4 billion dollars, which is 5% of the whole share. Another goal is to foster VR/AR specialty enterprises with annual sales of over 10 billion won, or those holding at least five VR/AR contents that are distributed globally. The government aims to increase the number of such enterprises to ten in 2018, and to 50 by 2020. A total of 40 billion won investment for VR/AR funds will be made by the government (24 billion won), the national and city banks (16 billion won), To induce private investment, the government intends to offer tax deduction on VR/AR funds and R&D investment.

An expert in the semiconductor field expects a demand increase of new industries since the expansion of VR/AR market will require large semiconductor memory. Thus, he remarked that preemptive moves should be made by increasing investment on R&D. Furthermore, a mobile expert has remarked that along with R&D investment, contents development should also be taken seriously, mentioning a few enterprises’ failure to expand due to the lack of contents.


MSIP carries out technology assessment every year in order to predict the impact of new technologies and be ready for them. VR/AR technologies are the focus in 2016 and are expected to bring a huge economic effect to related industries. The development of VR/AR technologies will not just affect the economy. Just as smartphones have changed the way people live, VR/AR technologies will have a ripple effect on our lives. However, there are possibilities of confusing the real and virtual world, causing dizziness, and exposing personal information. As always, the side effects must be taken into account when we develop a new technology.

[1] Refer to Sung, Joung-Souk. "Design of VR/AR Learning on Ubiquitous Environment." International Journal of Software Engineering and Its Applications , vol. 8, no. 12, 2014., pp. 189-198.

 






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