Virtual and augmented reality

18 July 2016

Interview with

Peter Cowley, Angel Investors

You may have heard of something that has been rolled out this week called vr manpokemon go. This is a mobile game which has people catching fictional creatures called pokemon in their local area- and it uses something called AR, or augmented reality.  Augmented reality and its cousin virtual reality are coming our way - with companies racing to have their tech ready and on the shelves as soon as possible. But how does it work, and what does this mean for gaming? Naked Scientists tech wizard Peter Cowley took Georgia Mills through this new frontier of gaming...

Peter -  There are two parts to those two abbreviations VR and AR. VR is virtual reality and AR is augmented reality.

First of all virtual reality is where you are effectively completely immersed in an environment, which could be real, it could be created by computers which give you sight, touch, hearing, and even smell.

Augmented reality, which is the pokemon connection is, in fact, a computer simulation on top of real life. So in the case of pokemon, you are wandering down the street, you can see an image of what's in front of you but a pokemon character - whatever they call it because I don't play the game -  will appear in front of you and you are trying to find those. That has a massive adoption recently - I believe about 20 million people are playing it already. It was only released two weeks ago - phenomenal!

Georgia - Yes, servers are completely down. I know this because I was trying to find pokemon in the studio earlier and then it broke. So is this changing gaming?

Peter - Yes. First of all the reason it's suddenly become adopted so much is because of mobile phone technology which allows great video, accelerometer, low cost and everything. Gaming - yes I had a look at that and I'm a bit surprised. And a big survey of nearly 20,000 gamers, only 15% said they'd buy something that was virtual reality and that might be to do with cost, unlike some of the ones we're just about to look at which are £10 each, the high end ones can be many hundreds of pounds or even low thousands. But I well imagine when these prices come down in a short time, a year or two, many gamers will be using virtual reality.

Georgia - So how does it work? We've got a couple of examples with us here in the studio...

Peter - Which we are going to switch on in a moment. Basically, virtual reality works much better. Clearly when you've got binocular vision which means a screen - we're both using mobile phones - is split in two so each eye sees a different image. That method of doing it then allows you to create depth so you can actually see around. Then the accelerometer and the GPS inside the phone, and the compass allow you to move your head around so you can look up, down and it will give you a different image based on that. So rebuild the screen based on that.

Georgia - I see. So I've slipped my phone into this cardboard contraption - it's very simple. It's just folded cardboard with two little glass goggles and you stick it on your face and I've gone on a tightrope simulator. I don't know why I did that because I despise heights. But when you move your head it around it really does look like you're there. I'm looking round and I think it's the Grand Canyon I'm tightroping across at the moment.

Peter - Yeah and I'm in a different one. Excuse me if I move away from the microphone but I've just come out of a cage in a load of sharks and the sharks are swimming around me.  Ooops...

Georgia - You went into the microphone there.

Peter - So looking up and down I can see divers there below me and above me and I can see sharks that are apparently going to attack me - I think!

Georgia - So apart from the perils of whacking into my microphone, and I suppose we both look quite stupid as well holding these big cardboard boxes to our heads. But what kind of things do they need to work on for this to work?

Peter - The two big ones are the fact that computing power isn't probably quite fast enough. So what's called rendering, which is rebuilding the image, can be a bit slow and when we tried it earlier with different generations of a particular phone, we found quite big differences between those but it's getting there, the technology is getting there.

The other this is the sort of nausea or balance issues. When you've got this on you've got no means of connecting yourself with the real environment particularly if you've got some sensing device on - gloves or something - you're completely immersed in that. In the way that some people are more affected by being on a boat, and some people are more affected by reading in a car, there will be some people who suffer more from it than others.

There are also a few other things as well. There's obviously the input devices ,which I think Graihagh's going to be talking about later, how to actually interact. And secondly possibly addiction. You know you can quite enjoy being in your virtual environment compared with normality...

Georgia - And what about outside the world of gaming what kind of use can these have?

Peter - I've used on AR effectively to read a menu recently. So this is where you point it at a menu and it's translating the food in real time in front of you. If you are in Russia are something it's very easy if you don't speak Russian. But there's lots of sensible applications. Some military, medicine, tourism, archaeology. Can you imagine architecture wandering through a building that you're designing. To be able to see it before it's actually been built.

Georgia - Save money I suppose if you didn't like the design!

Peter - Exactly. Change the design, exactly, yeah.

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